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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

God & "Pinikpikan," etc.

Part of the doctrinal package or religious discourse that I had to subscribe to as a preacher for a sectarian group was the prohibition against eating blood.  By this teaching, eating certain native Philippine dishes like dinuguan -- especially dinuguan -- (pork blood stew),  pinikpikan (roasted and boiled fowl with undrained blood), kinilaw (raw meat or seafood cured with a souring agent), and even balut (boiled duck egg/fetus)* was considered taboo, a violation of the Divine Pattern: kill, roast/boil, eat, and get fried in hell.
In my Bible Studies, I'd parrot our old preachers' line of reasoning on this doctrinal issue, as follows: In the Old Testament (OT), Jehovah barred the ancients from eating blood or an animal with blood in it; Noah was warned against it (Gen 9.4-5), and Israel was commanded to keep it along with other dietary restrictions (Lev 17.10-12).  In the New Testament (NT), we see the same rule: the early Gentile Christians were "to abstain from eating meat of strangled animals as well the blood thereof" (Acts 15.19-21,29). So it is clear that in all three dispensations -- Patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian -- there is a uniform stand against eating blood (read: dinuguan, pinikpikan, kinilaw, and balut).

Usually, that kind of proof-texting worked and it did help me win some to our cause.  There were those among my "prospects," though, who showed critical thinking and questioned me about what they perceived as contradictions in my teaching, including my use of OT texts while claiming that "the NT  alone should be the basis of Christian faith and practice." More than that, I claimed that Christians are to be under certain dietary restrictions and thus set myself against other NT passages which show that there is no such hard-and-fast rule for Christians today (see Mark 7.17-19; Acts 15.21; Rom 14; I Cor 8.1-13, 10.23-32, I Tim 4.3-4).

In trying to explain away the alleged inconsistencies in my doctrine, I gathered and developed stock rebuttals which at that time seemed to me irrefutable but now downright ridiculous and therefore untenable. Below are some of these:


In considering Mark 7.17-19, I would ape one of our older debaters by quickly responding: “O sige, kainin mo ang tae ko” (Okay, eat my crap then). That kind of "answer" often drew laughter from my hearers with some giving me the Hmmm... I didn't think of that - look.
But actually you don't need to crank up your brain gears to see the tomfoolery and hedging in that stock response.  Obviously, the text talks about food, not about crap or piss, and it says that Jesus declared all foods clean.

I'd explain Romans 14 by saying something like this: "Well, Paul clearly says in that chapter that we sin if we cause our brethren to stumble by eating a certain type of food which they think is prohibited by God. So if you eat dinuguan and you offend a brother or a sister, you sin. To be safe, then, we must not eat dinuguan at all. That's what this Apostle is also saying in I Corinthians 8.1-13, 10.23-32."

But again, that's no fair exegesis of the text in question, for it teaches too that no judgment must be passed on a fellow believer based on dietary regulations -- vegetarians should not judge the omnivores (okay, "meatetarians") and vice versa.  Paul, a former disciple of the great Jewish  teacher Gamaliel, said, “Nothing is unclean in itself." And I did miss the fact that the text is actually saying that those who fuss about diet as basis for fellowship are the ones who lack spiritual maturity. (Some Christian fundamentalist groups teach that it is wrong for their members to attend cañao (indigenous ritual feasts of Igorots) where meat with blood in it is supposed to be offered to idols before it is eaten.  But note that the Corinthian text above allowed the early Christians to attend feasts held in "pagan temples" where they would have to partake of meat from strangled animals that have been offered, presumably, to Apollo.

I Tim 4.1-5. Based on this text, my former church group condemned the Catholic Church for its dietary restrictions on the so-called "Holy Week."  It was not consistent though for turning around and forbidding its members against eating dinuguan or pinikpikan. Listen to Paul once more: "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."

But by far, among all the texts cited relative to this issue, the central text (well, at least for me) is Acts 15. 19,20 because it directly admonishes Gentile Christians to shun strangled meat, and because its context shows that this issue was and is cultural, and, therefore special and limited (i.e. the blood-and-strangled-meat ban is not universally applicable).

Contextually, the two verses form part of a larger issue at that time, legalism -- that is, the imposition of Jewish laws on Gentile Christians.  Pharisaical Jews wanted to make circumcision a litmus test for fellowship and salvation.By extension, the Gentile Christians would have to be enslaved by the Law of Moses and thus would have "fallen from grace" (cf. Gal 2-5).  To resolve the issue, a grand conference was held in Jerusalem and was concluded with the following unanimous decision, as expressed by one of the elders of the Jerusalem church, James:



"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."


This passage seems to contradict the other NT texts cited above, but it does not for the last sentence clarifies and limits the application of the ban.  The Jews were brought up in a legalistic system which demanded that they observe strict dietary rules (see Lev 11).  Their religious or moral upbringing naturally clashed with that of many of their Gentiles churchmates who did not have such qualms about eating meat with blood in it.  And since many of these converted Jews still gathered in synagogues where the Mosaical Law  held sway, it was but proper for the Gentile Christians to rein in their appetites so as not to offend their Jewish brethren.

So does this give us license for promiscuity, then? No.  The reason sexual immorality got sandwiched in this particular dietary proscription was that  most pagan feasts or revelries in the New Testament world included sexual orgies. In other words, food and sex were lumped in the command not because these were intrinsically of equal moral weight but because both of these were incidentally at the center of the Jewish-Gentile controversy of the period.  Had murder been part of these ancient rituals, it would have also been included in the list.

So with its context considered, the decision of the Jerusalem church does not really grant fundamentalist religious leaders the right to impose food restrictions upon their members.  Oh, they can always argue that blood is dirty and therefore unhealthy, and that since the Christian's body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor 6.19) Christians should avoid eating meat with blood in it.  Answer?  Easy.  First, let's ask them how "drained" should an animal be of its blood before it is allowed to be cooked and eaten.How much of the blood is allowed to remain in the meat? A pint? A droplet?  Further, we should ask them if they also have injunctions against eating meat with cholesterol in it, eating french fries and burgers,  drinking Coca-Cola,  etc.  For after all, health buffs should abstain from these types of junk foods and drinks, right? Ay, these people draw around them a legalistic line which they and their families wouldn't mind traipsing over.

This dietary rule must then be seen not as a Biblical command, but simply as an imposition of some theologians' dubious interpretation of a set of Biblical passages.

The rule is needless and beclouds the  message of Jesus. And missionaries who take a confrontational approach in dealing with the peculiarities of certain cultures or sub-cultures must first be taught to examine the colored glasses they wear before they ever set foot on other lands.


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*To learn how to cook these Filipino delicacies, go to pinoymix.com for dinuguan, tripod.com for pinikpikan, and cononutstudio.com for kinilaw. If you're interested in a sensationalized write-up on balut, go to deependdining.com.


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