Why Don’t Christians Keep Kosher?

It certainly is a valid question.  Why don’t modern Christians follow half the stuff that’s in the Old Testament?  Why don’t we eat kosher, wear prayer shawls, fully keep the Sabbath, and avoid shaving?  You hear nonChristians bring this up all the time, especially when discussing LGBT issues–they say, “If you’re going to use Old Testament verses to say that homosexuality is wrong, why don’t you avoid linen/wool blended clothing?  You have to do both, or you’re just cherry-picking from the Bible.”

Christians have some standard responses.  Things like “Jesus fulfilled the Law, so we don’t have to follow it anymore.”  (A weak response at best–Jesus himself said, in the same passage that he said he fulfilled the Law, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”)  But the standard responses seem unsatisfying, and often the question-askers are unconvinced.

Here’s the trick: it’s not a new question.

See, at first, all the Christians were Jewish.  Jesus was Jewish, all the apostles were Jewish, and all the people who were getting converted were all Jewish.  But then the gospel started to go out to the Gentiles, starting with Peter’s conversion of the Roman soldier Cornelius.  Now, the Church was in a pickle.  Up till now, all the Christians had followed the Old Testament laws.  Of course they did!  They were Jewish!  But once you start having non-Jewish Christians, do they have to follow the Old Testament laws too?

Some said yes  (Acts 15:1, 5).  They basically said, “When you become a Christian, you have to become Jewish, too.  You have to get circumcised and eat kosher and do everything else that’s in the Law of Moses.”

Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” disagreed vehemently (Acts 15:2).  So he put together a delegation to Jerusalem, where many of the apostles still were, and they all held a Council to decide how they should go about this.

Some in the Council were in favor of making Gentile Christians follow Moses’ Law.  But Peter said,  “…Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?”   (Acts 15:10)

Then James stood up.

“Brothers,” he said,  “listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted…

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

And this is what the Council decided.  Their letter to the churches basically echoes James’ words, saying that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements,” the three requirements that James listed.

Delegates were sent out and letters were written (Acts 15:22-31), reporting this decision to the Gentile churches, who were so encouraged by this that they “rejoiced.”

So when the question gets asked, “Why Do Christians Not Eat Kosher?” or “Why Do Christians Wear Wool/Linen Blends?”  you have my answer.  It’s already been answered for me by the apostles.  I am a Gentile, and out of all the Old Testament Laws only three apply to me.  (Of course, there are all those New Testament commandments given by Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter, etc. that DO apply to me.)  This is why a Gentile Christian doesn’t have to avoid linen/wool blends and can shave the corners of their beards and can eat lobster, but still can’t be an active homosexual or sleep around or eat blutwurst.

I can learn principles from the other Old Testament laws.  The linen/wool blended clothing is symbolic of compromise; not shaving the corners of my beard is an example of avoiding pagan practices; the veil in the tabernacle is a reminder of God’s overwhelming holiness…  But I am not bound to any of these laws.

Now, if a Gentile desired to keep the other Laws as a token of their devotion or something like that, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But they cannot mandate or require such practice of others.


To recap: for a Christian who is not Jewish, only the following Old Testament laws apply: the sexual laws, the food-sacrificed-to-idols law, and the not eating strangled meat/blood law.  The rest of the kosher rules, circumcision, prayer shawls, no-beard-shaving and the rest are not required of a Gentile Christian. 


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