Many people claim that Jesus Christ “did away” with Old Testament food laws and other “restrictions,” but your entire Bible actually contains practical wisdom for how to live a healthier lifestyle and avoid disease and frustration. Learn the blessings behind the Levitical laws and other principles of good health found in Scripture.
The Bible is not a textbook about nutrition or physical health. Yet when we see just how valuable the Bible’s instructions are in so many other areas of human life, it is not surprising to learn that the Bible gives important guidance regarding how we can best obtain and maintain physical health.
Indeed, your Bible gives us a variety of important instructions about building and maintaining our health. But is physical health an end in itself, or is it primarily a means to a greater end?
For centuries, Western civilization valued good health as a means to an end—to survive, earn a living, raise a family, or accomplish a noble goal. In more recent years, however, the quest for health has become an end in itself—a quest to find the ideal diet or the ultimate exercise and create the “perfect” body. For many today, health and body have become modern gods.
In pursuit of bodily perfection, millions search endlessly for the latest health secrets. People spend enormous amounts of money on injections, prescriptions, and procedures—yet the rate of obesity is growing year by year in the United States, where more than 70 percent of adults are classified as overweight, obese, or severely obese. That’s a shocking increase over even a decade ago, when “just” 60 percent fell into those categories. Weight is not just a problem by itself; it contributes to the suffering of millions who face heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and other maladies. And the story is similar in other developed nations.
For many, the modern, all-consuming quest for health is an expensive and never-ending search for a “holy grail” that often fails to produce the health and peace of mind most people desire. Why?
Is there a missing dimension in our lives today regarding our quest for health? Most people living in the modern Western nations have a distorted view of health because they have lost the anchor, the compass, meant to give us balance in our approach to health. We find ourselves swept from one extreme to another—from drugs to herbs, from surgery to “massaging energy flows”—yet we rarely look at the most proven source of truth in our lives: the Bible.
In Scripture, God provides fundamental principles to guide our personal choices in ways that promote health and prevent disease. The Bible is more than a list of “dos and don’ts” regarding health. From Scripture we learn that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Yet our bodies were not made to last forever (Psalm 39:5; James 4:14; Hebrews 9:27). Our ultimate challenge is to learn to think like God, develop character like His (Philippians 2:5), and show love for others (John 15:17). This life is meant to be a training ground for an amazing future (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). If we learn to follow God’s instructions, we will receive a reward that includes reigning with Jesus Christ when He returns to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth (Revelation 5:10). That is the Gospel that Christ brought—the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15).
Probably the best known and least understood biblical health instructions deal with clean and unclean meats (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). People often call these “Jewish” food laws because many who practice Judaism still observe them—yet Muslims and others also observe similar food restrictions. But even for those who have the mistaken idea that Jesus “did away” with the dietary laws, the health value of those laws is easily seen. Many of the animals Scripture calls “unclean” are scavengers (e.g. snails, crabs, lobsters, and gulls); their ecological role is to devour dead plants or animals. Other unclean animals are filter feeders (e.g. clams and oysters); their ecological role is to purify water in lakes, streams, and estuaries. Other unclean animals are predators (e.g. lions, snakes, and alligators); their role is to manage the size and health of other animal populations.
Furthermore, many unclean animals carry parasites that cause serious diseases in humans. Pigs, bears, squirrels, and raccoons cause trichinosis and other diseases. Scavengers such as crabs and crayfish can transmit lung and liver flukes. Human populations that frequently consume these creatures often have high rates of parasitic infections. Filter-feeding organisms, such as clams and oysters, may contain high concentrations of toxic heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria, and viruses, making them dangerous for human consumption.
When you eat these creatures, you are actually eating organisms God created to be nature’s “clean-up crew.” Would you eat the contents of your vacuum cleaner bag or your garbage disposal? Hardly! Yet many “gourmet” dishes are made with these creatures, in dangerous ignorance of the risks involved. To a believer in God, it is readily apparent that God created those unclean animals for purposes other than to serve as food for human beings. When we eat what God has told us not to eat, we do so to our own detriment. Regrettably, modern theologians do not understand the value of these powerful public health principles—nor do many who call themselves “Christian.” For more information on this subject, you can request our free booklet Biblical Principles of Health or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.
But God is not against meat—He revealed that there are many “clean” meats fit for human consumption, as defined in Deuteronomy 14:3–20. Cattle, oxen, sheep, deer, goats, antelope—any animal that chews its cud and has split hooves is “clean” for human consumption. There are also numerous birds and varieties of fish that are suitable for the human digestive system.
And let us not forget the place of vegetables alongside our meats. In Genesis, we read that God gave mankind fruits, vegetables, and grains for food, in addition to clean meats (Genesis 1:29; 2:16; 9:3). Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain fiber and other complex carbohydrates. Nutritionists have increasingly recognized the value of these substances in recent decades. Fiber, once thought to be useless, adds bulk to intestinal contents and plays a vital role in protecting the body from colon cancer and other chronic diseases. Complex carbohydrates are also an important part of a healthy diet because they help to prevent heart disease and strokes by reducing cholesterol levels.
God inspired Moses to record that blood and certain fats—even of clean animals—were not to be consumed as human food (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:23–26), yet in some cultures, eating blood sausage, eating “fatback,” and mixing blood and milk are common practices. Modern science understands that the blood of animals can contain bacteria and viruses that transmit disease. The biblical prohibition against consuming blood helps to prevent the spread of illness.
The prohibition against consuming certain types of visible fat is equally important, especially as it relates to our modern diet. Of course, the Bible does not forbid nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and (clean) fish, all of which can be sources of healthy fats. But it is surely no coincidence that most modern medical studies indicate that diets that are high in certain kinds of fat, such as some associated with the list in Leviticus, are also associated with weight gain, obesity, heart disease, various kinds of cancer, and other problems. And while there is some dispute about the complex details concerning which fats are good and which are bad, the Bible’s advice is plain, easy to follow, and has been consistent for more than 3,000 years. The ancient prohibition Moses recorded is rock-solid health advice today.
Another serious problem with Western diets is the high consumption of refined carbohydrates. Refined flour and sugar have been stripped of vital nutrients. Populations that consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates experience higher rates of diabetes and other related problems. Many of these diseases and chronic conditions could be avoided by simply following biblical guidelines. In the book of Proverbs, we find the principle of moderation: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit” (25:16) and “it is not good to eat much honey” (25:27). Long before society realized that the excessive consumption of sweets is harmful to our health, the Bible counseled moderation and self-control—two vital qualities for a healthy lifestyle that are recommended in other scriptures as well (c.f. 1 Corinthians 9:25; Galatians 5:23).
While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol (Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11), it does not condemn the moderate consumption of alcohol (Deuteronomy 14:26). Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1–11). The Apostle Paul told his protégé Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23). Again, the key is moderation. Moderate amounts of alcohol produce relaxation, raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and increase stomach acids, aiding digestion in the elderly.
While tobacco and recreational drugs are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, principles governing the use of such addictive substances are clearly stated. Paul writes that we are not to be controlled by our physical impulses (1 Corinthians 6:12), and drug abuse plainly brings its victims under the power of extremely harmful addiction. The Bible’s health principles are not meant to eliminate human pleasure, but the “pleasure” of damaging drugs is shortsighted and ultimately causes harm. For more on this subject, you can request a free copy of Marijuana: What They Aren’t Telling You or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org, where you can also read Mr. Wallace Smith’s August 2022 article “Dying to Get High.”
With all this in mind, we should not neglect the pleasure of exercise. Over the centuries, many have developed a stereotype that an ideal Christian life is quiet and sedentary, devoted to prayer, study, and meditation, and not much else. These do have their place, but we cannot help but notice that Jesus Christ came to this earth as a carpenter in an age without power tools. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were chosen to be among Christ’s Apostles, were fishermen who did not have diesel-powered winches to haul in their nets. When Jesus called His first disciples to follow Him (Matthew 4:19; John 11:54), this entailed walking hundreds of miles per year. Their physically active lifestyle kept them healthy and provided stamina for completing their mission.
Today, with many working in sedentary jobs, sometimes sitting in front of a computer at home for many hours each workday, we may not match the Apostles’ exercise level. But the Apostle Paul nevertheless advises us that, while our primary focus should be on spiritual matters, “bodily exercise profits a little” (1 Timothy 4:8). This is exactly what modern research has shown. While these benefits are only temporary, they are ongoing if our activity is ongoing, and they include reduced cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and stress. Being active can also prevent diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other problems.
If we eat according to the Bible’s guidelines and supplement our diet with the exercise Scripture shows is beneficial, we can promote a level of physical health in our lives that will be of benefit no matter what other challenges we may face—be they challenges of physical health, emotional health, or even spiritual health. God in His word reveals a pattern of living that has helped countless others—and can help you.
When we understand that pattern and practice it, we can experience improved physical health, leading to wonderful blessings as individuals and as a society following that pattern. “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).