St. John St. James Church, Roxbury

Back to ARTICLES Home Page

Study Group Notes: Faith, Food and Culture

Does God care what type of food we eat?

We know that food is an important theme in the Bible. Jesus and his disciples enjoyed meals and conversations with people everywhere they went. The tradition of sharing meals continued in the early church, as seen in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and in many references in Paul's letters.

Food was important throughout the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) also. We read stories about God providing food when there wasn't enough, or about gratitude for abundant harvests and pleasant food. We read about Ruth gleaning wheat left behind from the harvest, and we read laws about how the people of Israel were expected to follow practices that allowed others to gather and glean what they needed. We also read about laws that were established about what to eat and what not to eat, establishing a tradition of purity in following dietary laws.

What about today? Does God care about what we eat? Does our diet have any connection to our spiritual well-being?

Many people who are concerned about food, hunger and environmental issues have looked at the value of eating a simpler, more natural, more plant-based diet.

The more we learn about modern food systems, the more we see that certain types of modern agriculture, especially beef production, and especially big, factory-style farms, can have a big impact on natural resources and the environment. One way to make a positive difference in the world is to be thoughtful about what you eat, and to make an effort to understand how food is produced and to support producers who follow the best practices to conserve and restore natural resources.

People who advocate for a more thoughtful and simple diet can find support for these ideas from the Bible. In many of his letters, Paul wrote about food issues.... not about the issues we face today, but about issues that arose in the early church. Some of the early Christians felt that they should obey Jewish laws about what to eat and what not to eat. Others felt that their faith set them free from those laws, and that they should be able to eat any reasonable diet. Paul advised them to be thoughtful of each other. Don't let your rules be a barrier to another person's faith, he advised. But follow what you think is right in a way that is humble and thoughtful.


1. Read Daniel Chapter 1 and think about the story. What happened in this story? Do you see any parallels to modern life?

2. Think about how modern food systems compare with older, more traditional food systems. How is the modern food system different from your experiences years ago? What has changed? What is better? What is worse?

3. What lessons about food would you like to share with other (younger/older) Christians?

Daniel 1

During the third year of King Jehoiakim's reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah's royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. "Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men," he said. "Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon." The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:

Daniel was called Belteshazzar.

Hananiah was called Shadrach.

Mishael was called Meshach.

Azariah was called Abednego.

But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded."

Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. "Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water," Daniel said. "At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king's food. Then make your decision in light of what you see." The attendant agreed to Daniel's suggestion and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others.

God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.

When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

Daniel remained in the royal service until the first year of the reign of King Cyrus.

February 27, 2020