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What’s For Supper? — First Steps in Understanding How to Understand the Bible

by Pastor Dennis Kiszonas

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As suppertime approaches at our house, I often wander into the kitchen while Barbara, my wife, is cooking our dinner, and I’m usually hungry. My question is often, “What’s for supper?”

In this study we’re going to ask the same question, but this time we’re going to ask the Bible—`What’s for supper?’—and we’re going to see that God has given several different instructions in the Bible at different times about the food that He allowed His people to eat.

Our goal is not just to learn about God’s instructions about food in the Bible, but to get an understanding of how to understand the Bible. What we’ll learn about food is applicable to many other questions we could ask of the Bible.

We’ve known Christians who “study” the Bible by standing the book up on its spine, then carefully letting go and letting it fall open to any page at random. Then, with their eyes closed, they run their finger down the page. When it seems like its the right moment, they open their eyes and read the verse their finger landed on. That becomes their verse for the day, or their verse for guidance, or their inspiration for the moment.

That’s one method of Bible “study” that’s sure to leave a Christian in a state of total confusion.

God wants us to have an understanding of His Word. The Apostle Paul often prayed for the believers that he was writing to, and one of his repeated prayers is that God would “enlighten the eyes of their understanding,” or that they would attain to “the full assurance of understanding.” If we don’t understand the Word of God, how can we believe it?

This study is about one of the most basic principles of Bible study. It is about starting to understand how to understand the Bible. We’ll start by looking at five men, five leading men in the Bible, and seeing what God said to them about food. The study is very simple, yet the implications are really profound in helping us to understand how to understand the Bible!

WHAT GOD SAID TO ADAM ABOUT FOOD

The first man we need to look at is the first man, Adam. When God created Adam, He told him what he was allowed to eat:

“And God said, `See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food'” (Gen. 1:29).

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were vegetarians. God commanded that their food was to be the herbs and fruits, no meat. And this same instruction was repeated in the next chapter:

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, `Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'” (Gen. 2:16-17).

This instruction about food was very serious, since it was precisely in this area that Adam sinned and plunged the entire human race into sin. He ate from the tree that he was told not to eat from!

I remember well the first time these verses came to my attention. I was in a Bible study group, meeting in someone’s living room. I was a very new Christian, and I almost went into shock. God commanded that man should be a vegetarian, and I loved pizza—pepperoni, sausage, double cheese, mushrooms. Now I thought I’d have to give up my favorite food…and I never knew that Christians were supposed to be vegetarians!

But someone in the Bible study group, older in the faith and wiser in the study of God’s Word, said that I should wait until I had read everything the Bible says about food before I gave up my pizzas. So, before we give up pizza, let’s read on….

WHAT GOD SAID TO NOAH ABOUT FOOD

The next man we need to look at is Noah. There were about 1500 years between Adam and Noah. In Genesis 9 we read about Noah, after the great flood, receiving instructions from God concerning the food that he was allowed to eat:

“So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood'” (Gen. 9:1-4).

Here God changes the menu for mankind. “Every living thing that moves shall be food for you…even as the green herbs.” God had spoken of the “beasts of the earth…birds of the air…fish of the sea,” and then He says to Noah that all these are to be his food, along with the herbs, that is the vegetables and grains. For the first 1500 years of the human race, God’s instructions were that man was to be a vegetarian, now, after the great flood, God changes the instructions and adds meat, fowl, fish to the basic vegetable and grain menu.

I breathed a sigh of relief, after 1500 years, now pizza was OK. But there’s more….

WHAT GOD SAID TO MOSES ABOUT FOOD

The next man we need to look at is Moses, the Law-giver of Israel. In Leviticus 11, God gave Moses and Aaron a complete chapter of some 47 verses detailing which animals the Israelites could eat, and which were “unclean” and forbidden.

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, `Speak to the children of Israel, saying, These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth'” (Lev. 11:1-2).

Among the forbidden animals was the swine (Lev. 11:7) or pig, so pork was unclean. Forget about sausage or pepperoni pizza! The chapter lists the seafood that was allowed—fish with scales, and the seafood that was unclean—lobsters, shrimp, clams. The birds that were unclean—eagles, vultures, buzzards, even the insects that were allowed—the grasshopper, cricket and locust were kosher and allowed to be eaten!

The chapter ends with this instruction:

“This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, To distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten” (Lev. 11:46-47).

Before we move on further, let’s review….

To Adam God said that his food was to be herbs and fruits. This instruction was in effect for about 1500 years.

Then to Noah God commanded that he and his descendants could eat every moving living thing: animals, fish and birds, meat, fowl and fish, along with the herbs. This instruction lasted about 1000 years.

In the Law of Moses God again changed His instructions concerning food—at least for the nation of Israel—now only certain animals, fish and birds were allowed to be eaten, the rest were unclean and not allowed for the Israelites to eat.

This instruction—the Law of Moses with its kosher and non-kosher food—was in effect all throughout the rest of the Old Testament, and all throughout the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and on into the early chapters of the Book of Acts. This brings us to the next man we need to study, Peter.

WHAT GOD SAID TO PETER ABOUT FOOD

In Acts 10 and 11 Peter received a startling revelation from the Lord concerning food. One day Peter was hungry at about noon time. So while lunch was being prepared, Peter was up on a rooftop praying when he received a vision from the Lord.

“…Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, `Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’

“But Peter said, `Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’

“And a voice spoke to him again the second time, `What God has cleansed you must not call common'” (Acts 10:9-16).

Something like a great white sheet descended from heaven in this vision and in the sheet Peter saw all kinds of animals, creeping things—insects, lizards, etc., and birds. Some were kosher, but apparently many, perhaps most, were not kosher. God’s instruction to Peter was, “Rise, kill and eat.” Peter was now allowed to eat any kind of meat, or fowl or insect, or other living thing. Peter, though, protests and says to God, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything unclean or common.”

From this statement we learn that Peter has kept the kosher laws all his life. When the Lord was with the twelve apostles for those three years of His earthly ministry, the Lord and the twelve apostles never ate anything that wasn’t kosher. And in Acts 10 more than a year after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord into heaven, Peter still was keeping the Law of Moses. He had never eaten anything in disobedience to Leviticus 11 which had been written by Moses about 1500 years before.

But now again, God was changing the command regarding food. Now God says to Peter, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Now these animals, birds and fish that were once “unclean” have now been cleansed. Again, let’s review….

God commanded Adam that he could eat herbs and fruits only. This instruction stood for some 1500 years.

Then God commanded Noah that he could eat any kind of moving living thing along with the vegetables. This instruction stood for about 1000 years.

Then God told Moses that only certain animals, birds and seafood were allowed to be eaten by the Israelites. Moses’ law stayed in effect for some 1500 years until the middle of the Book of Acts.

Which now brings us to the last man we want to look at, the Apostle Paul.

WHAT THE LORD JESUS SAID TO PAUL ABOUT FOOD

What Peter didn’t know in Acts 10, but we do, is that a new dispensation had begun in Acts 9. One chapter before Peter’s vision, something even more startling happened one day on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. The Lord Jesus Christ saved a man who later called himself, the “chief of sinners,” and appointed him to become the Apostle Paul. And the Lord Jesus began to reveal to Paul a dispensation called the “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2).

Just as Moses was the Law-giver for Israel, and his dispensation included instructions about food, so also Paul became the “dispenser” of the dispensation of the grace of God, and his dispensation also included instructions about food:

“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 foods 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” (I Tim. 4:1-5).

Paul warns Timothy that in the latter times there will be teachers who will command the Christians to “abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving.” Paul says that this will be evidence of a departure from the faith, for in the dispensation of the grace of God, “Every creature of God is good [meat, fowl, or seafood] and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.”

Today, for us living under grace (Rom. 6:14) and in this dispensation given to Paul by the Lord from heaven (Eph. 3:2), all animals, birds, and seafood are allowed to be eaten as food. Nothing is forbidden. For the past 2000 years, ever since the dispensation of grace began in Acts 9 with the salvation of this new apostle, godly people have been permitted to eat sausage and pepperoni pizzas with double cheese and mushrooms!

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT “HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE?”

Back to our purpose in this study …how do these things we have seen about God’s food laws in the Bible help us to understand how to understand the Bible?

First, we need to realize when we’re studying the Bible, that God has given different commands to different people at different times all through the Word of God. In regard to food, God gave one initial instruction to Adam and his descendants, then changed the instruction when He spoke to Noah. Then again a new set of instructions for Moses, that were completely changed when he called the Apostle Paul and revealed the dispensation of grace to him for us today.

The instructions would even seem to contradict each other…to Adam: herbs and fruits only, then to Noah: any living thing—animal, bird or fish—then to Moses: only some living things, then for us: “every creature of God is good [for food].”

Unless we realize that God has different instructions for different people at different times, we would have to conclude that the Bible is full of contradictions.

Second: When we study the Bible, we need to be careful to “rightly divide the Word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15) to be sure that we are applying God’s instructions for us today, and not God’s instructions to someone living in another dispensation. Just dropping the Bible open and randomly putting our finger down on any verse is not “rightly dividing the Word of truth!” and is a good way to become very confused about how to understand the Bible.

Of course, the instructions about food are only part of the Word of God. But many other teachings in the Bible also have to be studied “dispensationally.” For instance, the Lord’s teaching about prayer for us in the dispensation of grace is vastly different from what He gave the twelve apostles during His earthly ministry in Israel.

To Israel the Lord said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” And, “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (John 15:7 and Matt. 21:22).

Many today have tried to “claim” these prayer promises, only to be sadly disappointed when they didn’t work—they didn’t get “what you desire” or “whatever things you ask.” Some have even lost their faith in the Bible at this point. They tried the “prayer promises for Israel” and found that they didn’t work, and so concluded that the Bible isn’t true.

What they failed to realize is that God’s instructions to different people living at different times have changed, about food and about prayer and about many other things. When we want to know what to eat, or how to pray, under grace, we turn to the letters of the Apostle Paul. And when we do, we learn that even the Apostle Paul did not get everything that he asked for—see II Corinthians 12:8-9 for one good example, and there are a number of others.

Third, we see that a Bible teacher may be “biblical” and “scriptural” but he will be wrong if he is not “dispensational.”

Biblical, in the sense that he is quoting Bible verses and passages, and teaching some portion of the Word of God and applying it to believers today. And scriptural, in the sense that he is quoting Scripture to prove his point. But if he is not dispensational, he will be teaching wrong doctrine for believers today.

Example: A preacher could easily preach that we should be vegetarians today—he could find several verses to base this doctrine on in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis where the Lord commanded Adam to be a vegetarian. The preacher would be biblical and scriptural, but he would be wrong, because he wouldn’t be rightly dividing the Word of truth. Yes, Genesis is God’s Word, but not God’s Word to us today!

We live in a time of great confusion even among Bible believers and Bible teachers. In some neighborhoods there’s almost a church on every corner, and they’re all preaching something different, yet they all have their verses in the Bible to prove that they are right and the others are wrong! And because they disagree about how to understand the Bible, and how to apply the Bible to us today, they are divided into thousands of different denominations and groups. We have seen in our simple study about foods in the Bible how it would be very easy to become confused—and then become divided from other Christians.

One church may be following Adam’s instructions in Genesis 1 and 2. Another may focus on Noah’s, or Moses’, or Peter’s, or Paul’s—they would all have verses to prove that they were right, yet they would all disagree with each other, and none would be able to eat with the others!

We’ve been focusing on only this one area, foods, but the same principle applies to many doctrines in the Bible: salvation, eternal security, prayer, speaking in tongues, healings and healers, the Lord’s coming again, and many other areas of teaching. All of these areas of doctrine must be studied, not only biblically and scripturally, but also dispensationally—”rightly dividing the Word of truth”—if we really want to understand what God’s instructions are for us today.

Here is the simple answer to all the confusion that we find today in the Body of Christ, and the only way of having unity among all the members of the Body of Christ. We need to realize that the Lord Jesus Christ saved a new apostle, the Apostle Paul, for a special purpose, to reveal to him a new program called the “dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). Here is the key that opens up the Scriptures to our understanding.

PAUL’S LETTERS ONLY?

Does this mean that we only read Paul’s Letters in the Bible? Some, who first hear about studying the Bible dispensationally, draw the false conclusion that we should only be reading or studying Paul’s letters today. Paul himself wrote to Pastor Timothy:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness…” (II Tim. 3:16).

The whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the inspired, God-breathed, Word of God. We are commanded to study the entire Bible because there are principles in every part of the Bible that teach us doctrine, or reprove us when we are disobedient. The whole Bible is profitable for our study and learning. But the way to get the profit out of the Bible is to study the Bible the way God said to study it, “rightly divided” (II Tim. 2:15), recognizing that the Lord Jesus revealed from heaven the dispensation of grace to the Apostle Paul for us today. If we forget this basic principle, the more we study the Bible, the more confused we will become!

This has been a very simple study in the Bible, that began with a simple question, “What’s for supper?” Yet the principle that we’ve discovered is profound in helping us to start to understand how to understand the Bible.

As we have surveyed God’s different instructions to different people at different times throughout the Bible, the answer to the question—What’s for supper?—has seemed to be obvious, yet, sad to say, most Christians today have never seen this principle in the Bible. We hope that our study together has been profitable to you…that you have not only seen something new, or clearer in the Bible, but also will apply this simple Bible principle in your continuing study of God’s Word, and that you will want to share it with others.