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I am a Malaysian Muslim and am very curious about Christian diets. I've heard that Christianity prohibited eating Pork and Horse Meat but why do my Presbyterian classmates always eat both Pork and Horse Meat food for their lunch at my school? As a Muslim, I eat Horse meat since it was allowed in Islam but my Presbyterian Christian classmates have ask a bit of my horse meat burger patty lunch food a few month ago. I also have warm them because I really respect my friend's religious beliefs, and said "this horse meat lah you Christian cannot eat kan?" but they did tell me Christianity allowed everything. So I'm curious about this.

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Dietary rules among Christians vary from sect to sect. The starting point for understanding the Christian views on food regulation is in the book of Acts, chapter 10, when Peter has a vision and is told that he may eat any kind of food, even unclean food that does not meet Jewish regulations, such as pork. This is symbolic: Peter was told that Gentiles who are "unclean" by Jewish custom may join the Church and become Christians. However, it is also understood in a literal sense: Christians may in fact eat any food in normal circumstances.

However, there are circumstances in which a Christian should abstain from eating certain foods. This rule is binding on all small "o" orthodox Christians:

1 Corinthians 8:

8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Thus, if a Christian has a friend who is offended by something he eats, he should avoid eating it in their presence so as not to harm their friendship or confuse the person about what is right or wrong. The above prohibition is meant to keep Christians from openly participating in the rituals of other faiths and prevent syncretism. Also, since many people keep pets, it is frowned upon to eat animals kept as pets by people we know.

Many religions ban the consumption of alcohol. Some Christian denominations do, but most teach that so long as one does not become intoxicated, they are free to drink alcohol. My personal practice is to never drink in the presence of people I know are struggling with current or past alcoholism, so as not to cause them to stumble.

Some Christian denominations ban the use of tobacco, or the consumption of caffeine, but most permit it.

I was directed by one of the commenters to this passage from Matthew 15, which gives Jesus' opinion on the matter. He said that our speech and conduct is more important than our diet when it comes to pleasing God:

1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’a and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’b 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ” 10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

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    Did jesus not also say it is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you but what comes out, seems rather pertinent to this discussion. – Neil Meyer Feb 22 '17 at 18:39
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    Yes, like Tim noted in the other response, the passage in Mark 7 is pretty clear: "'Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)" -- Mark 7:18b-19, NIV – user33744 Feb 22 '17 at 20:41
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    @JDM Yes, but don't take that quote too literally. Rotten meat will certainly "defile" a person's body if ingested, as evidenced by the resulting sickness. As I understand it, the main point in that verse is that what one says is far more important than what one eats. – jpaugh Feb 23 '17 at 22:07
  • @jpaugh of course eating rotten lamb meat will make you sick and God never forbade eating lamb. – Kris Feb 25 '17 at 2:38
  • @jpaugh You're applying a much looser definition of "defile" than the in-context quote allows. The original word is Strong's G2840, which is used only in the spiritual sense: to profane, make common, render unhallowed. It does not apply to microbial contamination or physical illness. In other words, the only way the Mark 7 passage could be mis-read the way you describe, is by NOT taking it literally. – user33744 Feb 26 '17 at 21:47
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The answer which focuses on Acts 10 is excellent, but this statement from the Jerusalem Council, also recorded in the book of Acts, is also pertinent:

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 the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. (Acts 15:19–21)

Basically, the issue was that Jewish Christians had wanted Gentile Christians to conform to the OT food laws, but the Apostles decided that was not necessary, in light of what was described in Acts 10 (and an interpretation of some of Jesus' own words, such as what Neil Meyer quoted (Matt. 15:11) and his claim to have fulfilled the OT law (Matt. 5:17)).

Christian denominations and sects vary quite widely in their beliefs regarding diet, but nearly all would hold to these words from Acts 15 indicating that the OT dietary laws are no longer binding. However, most Christians in practice are not necessarily concerned to avoid eating blood, strangled animals, or food sacrificed to idols. It may be that the later writings of Paul, also in the New Testament, are the reason for that - such as 1 Cor. 8.

It is correct that most Christians probably do not follow the teachings of the Didache explicitly, since it is not part of the New Testament. However, many non-Orthodox Christians (large "o") such as Catholics and some Anglicans, do follow a cycle of fast days.

To more specifically answer your original question, though, I can imagine that any practicing Christian would appreciate your efforts to show respect for their religious beliefs, even if they are not actually required not to eat horse meat.

I live in the US so I personally would not eat horse meat, but for me that is simply a cultural preference, since I didn't grow up eating it.

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    I think this answer is best as it directly answers OP's question: are Christians required to follow Jewish laws and regulations? The Jerusalem Council in Acts says "no". – Pete Feb 22 '17 at 20:34
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Christianity is broad in its beliefs of what may be eaten and what may not be eaten (see Acts 15, 1Co 8, and Gal 2:11-14 for a peek at early church debates on what foods may or may not be eaten).

Many Christians will point to Mark 7:19 or Acts 10:1-11:18 to indicate that God has declared all foods clean. Others recognize that Jesus did not abolish the law (Matt 5:17) and so the Old Testament requirements should still stand. Still others say that certain foods are still not allowed for health reasons (1Co 6:19).

In summary, there is no single "Christian" position on what foods are or are not allowed. However, I think your choosing to warn your friends about the particulars of a meat before sharing is a prudent choice. Then if their faith is such that it would hurt their conscience to discover afterwards that they have eaten horse meat, you have been a good friend to keep them from stumbling in their faith.

  • +1 for a generally good answer, but RE: Matt 5:17, Jesus said in v 18 that none of the law would pass away until it had been fulfilled. And in v 17 He said that He came to fulfill it (He just hadn't yet done so at the time of His sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7.) Assuming He fulfilled His purpose (an assumption that seems reasonable for a Christian to hold,) it has now been fulfilled and is no longer in effect. This agrees with Paul's statements about the Mosaic law in Galatians as well as those of the writer of Hebrews (as well as being in line with Acts 10, Acts 15, etc.) – reirab Feb 23 '17 at 19:14
  • @reirab "it has now been fulfilled and is no longer in effect". He came not to destroy but to fulfill. If it is no longer in effect, then it is destroyed. So how can that be? – wberry Feb 24 '17 at 10:27
  • I appreciate your comment (and upvote), however, I must point out that your comment on Matt 5:17-18, reflects just one of many Christian interpretations of these verses. I am not saying it is right or wrong, but merely that it is not reflective of all Christians. You may believe that Christ fulfilled the Law, so it no longer applies. Others believe that the moral commandments of the Law were declared by Christ and the apostles as still applicable. There are yet other views as well. While each position has merits, I don't believe any one interpretation stands for all of Christianity. – Tim Feb 24 '17 at 12:10
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I searched all the statements of belief and catechisms published by the American Presbyterian Church for the terms "food", "meat", "diet" and "kosher" and found no affirmation of the kosher diet specifically, or of Jewish law generally regarding allowed/disallowed foods or preparation standards.

So it would appear that at least the American Presbyterian Church has no official position on the matter. Anecdotally, I have not known American Presbyterians to follow the kosher standard. I would be surprised to learn that this was commonplace.

Nor do I find any statement regarding diet on what appears to be the official Malaysian Presbyterian Church website. If there is an official doctrine among them, it is not published there.

As to whether the wider Christian world beyond Presbyterianism is the same: @PaulChernoch answered:

[Peter's vision in Acts c10] is also understood in a literal sense: Christians may in fact eat any food in normal circumstances.

I have no doubt this is the prevailing view, at least in the West. (With @Piomicron's answer as anecdotal confirmation.) In this answer I present a contrasting view: that God expects all Christians to obey the kosher standard, that Jesus and the apostles taught exactly this, and that wide sections of Christendom have defied God for centuries in not doing so.

There is at least one Protestant denomination that respects the kosher standard: the Seventh Day Adventists uphold the kosher diet in compliance with the Torah. For them, it is not merely a good health practice, it is an imperative. (I am not a 7th Day Adventist.)

I have a few points in support of this position (not speaking specifically of 7th Day Adventism any more, but regarding the Bible text itself).

First, Jesus taught (Matthew 5:17-19, link is a bit different):

Do not think that I have come to loosen Torah or the Prophets. I have not come to loosen but to fulfill them through proper meaning. For truly I say to you that until heaven and earth pass away not one Yodh or one stroke will pass from Torah until everything happens. All who loosen, therefore, from one (of) these small commandments and teach thus to the sons of man, will be called little in the Kingdom of Heaven, but all who do and teach this will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some translations have "destroy" instead of "loosen". But the point is, "destroy" and "fulfill" cannot possibly be the same thing! But if the Torah does not have to be followed any more, at least at meal time, wouldn't that mean it was "loosened"? Therefore, by modus potens, Jesus affirms the kosher standard by this statement.

Also, this word "fulfill" has the same root in Aramaic ("D'MALA"), the vernacular language of that time and place, in the above teaching as in this proclamation (John 19:30, link is a bit different):

And when he had taken that vinegar Y'shua said, "Behold, it is finished!" And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

(The phrase "behold, it is finished" here would be Aramaic "HA MESHALAM". Same root word, according to my study guide.) This statement is one of profound importance to the Christian faith generally, as it declares that by being crucified, Jesus has "finished" the reconciliation of mankind to God. The use of the same word makes a strong case that in "fulfilling" the law, Jesus does not intend for us to disregard it; rather the opposite.

My second point is to counter the other arguments offered here, all commonly discussed in my experience, that Christians are not expected to follow the kosher standard.

  • As @PaulChernoch states, it is clear that Peter's vision described in Acts chapter 10 is not about food at all. It is about the visitation of the Holy Spirit upon Gentile people, not only Jews. This vision was a critical event in history. If not for this vision, non-Jews would never have been welcomed fully into the faith that later became known as Christianity. And if the vision is not about food, we should not pretend that it is.
  • This commentary remarks on the passage from First Corinthians 8, quoted in the other answer: "In Torah and in Jewish culture, only kosher animals count as 'food'." Therefore the discussion in that chapter is solely about preparation methods, not about which species of meat are acceptable. Also: "The contrast Paul is drawing here is between eating kosher meat and worrying that said meat may have originally come from an unkosher place specifically as he says, 'the sacrifices of idols,' or pagan altars, but if such cannot be proven with certainty. In that situation, Paul is saying he would rather not eat meat at all rather than create division." Pork is off the radar here.
  • The passage quoted in @EvanDonovan's answer in Acts 15, contrary to what is argued, reinforces the mandate to respect the kosher standard. Paraphrasing, the apostles specifically instruct new converts to respect the preparation requirements of kosher (do not eat blood, do not eat animals that have been strangled or sacrificed to idols). Because that is required by Moses' law. They do not mention what species are acceptable because Moses already clearly explains that. In this passage the apostles are deciding to emphasize these few simple points of direct instruction for new Gentile converts to the faith, who may feel overwhelmed by all there is to learn, leaving them to learn the Torah through normal study in synagogue beyond that. They are not issuing indulgences.

Third and finally, I discuss Mark 7:18-20 at length. It is a very interesting and important passage, particularly regarding this issue, and I have spent a good amount of time studying it. I am not an academic, but I have decided for myself that this passage is also not actually about food at all. Rather it is about the treatment of law versus tradition by the Pharisees. There is more radical variation than normal between English translations. King James (1769 edition) has a rather scatological interpretation:

Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, [it] cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

New International Version has something completely different:

"... For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. ..."

My Greek New Testament has this phrase, corresponding to King James "purging the meats" and NIV "declared all foods clean":

ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν, ἀλλὰ εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν, καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται, καθαρίζον πάντα τὰ βρώματα.

The bold phrase Romanized as "katharizon panta ta broumata". The rendering of the Greek text is not controversial, being found in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and other very old sources in identical form, according to my Greek New Testament edition. How to correctly translate it I find highly interesting. "Broumata" is "meat", I think in the plural. Vine's Dictionary has the verb "katharizo" as "purge" or "cleanse", and "pantos" as "altogether". This clause is just tacked on to the end of the sentence, which seemingly would also be grammatical without it.

However, my Peshitta has (link is a bit different):

... You do not know that everything which enters into a man from the outside is not able to defile him. Because it does not enter into his heart, rather into his belly and is cast out by excretion, which purifies all the food. But anything that goes out from a man is that which defiles a man.

So we may have a fair amount of agreement between King James and the Peshitta here; both of them seeming to say something to the effect of, "you eat food and poop it out again, so what". Whereas the recent English translations from Greek (not just NIV but many translations from the past 50 or so years) seem to treat "katharizon panta ta broumata" as being a parenthetical waiver on eating whatever we feel like.

In order to make their translation grammatical in English, the NIV translators had to throw in the words "In saying this, Jesus ..." which have no corresponding noun or verb in the Greek. Clearly multiple scholars with degrees think this is OK; and what do I know after all. But I must wonder, if this really was the intended meaning, would it not have been written in Greek just that way? For example, John 21:19 has such a parenthetical remark explicitly written in Greek, and English translations seem to agree much more closely on it:

τοῦτο δὲ εἶπε σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ δοξάσει τὸν Θεόν.

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.

Another big difference between Mark 7:19 and John 21:19 is that even if John had not explained it to us, Jesus' words would still mean the same thing. He refers to Peter's death whether we realize it or not. Without John's parenthetical, the remark perhaps becomes more cryptic (unless you know how Peter was martyred), but it doesn't change meaning. But as translated in the NIV, Mark 7:19 actually means something different with vs without the parenthetical. With it, he is declaring all foods clean to eat. Without it, he is saying that eating without first washing hands does not corrupt you.

So in order to prefer the NIV to the King James / Peshitta here, we have to accept a similar English rendering to John 21:19 when the Greek is actually quite different. And when the plain meaning of Jesus' words probably changes without Mark explaining it to us! (Who is teaching, Jesus or Mark?) And we have to accept that "katharizon panta ta broumata" is not part of what Jesus actually said, even though it might be, even though it is part of a sentence that is otherwise a complete and direct quotation, even though it is immediately followed by further direct quotation (in fairness, restarting the quotation with an initial ἔλεγε "he was saying"). All this despite a plausible, less problematic (not requiring us to believe the writer to be presumptuous), and more plain alternate English translation on offer.

Now let's look to context. This passage follows an accusation that Jesus and his discples broke tradition (distinct from law) by eating without first properly washing hands in the ritual manner. This accusation was rebutted by calling the accusers hypocrites whose traditions led to a cultural, if not institutional, dishonoring of parents, contrary to Torah.

So diet is not even at issue in this passage, but rather preparation for the meal, specifically whether this type of ritual hand-washing is really required or not.

These factors together lead me to side with the King James and Peshitta translations of Mark 7:19, rather than the others. I believe it is right to expect a compelling argument for the "declared all foods clean" translation, given the huge ramifications. And I find only a weak case for it. It also does not make sense to me that Jesus' words would carry a different and even wrong meaning, without Mark explaining them to us.

I understand the verse as follows. Ritual hand-washing established by human tradition (and not by the Torah) is not that important, because whatever we eat we digest and poop out, and it does not corrupt us. What does corrupt us is to nullify the Torah through tortured interpretation and substituting human tradition in its place, as the Pharisees apparently did.

  • I'm glad you had an answer that addresses Presbyterians more. I feel like that is what the asker was wondering about the most. I hope it makes sense that Christianity and practices vary so much across churches. – Pie Till I Die Feb 25 '17 at 15:06
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Orthodox Christianity allows consumption of these things, but is governed by rules concerning when one may consume any sort of meat. Abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays is a very ancient custom in the Church, dating from the 1st century (as testified to in the Didache). To my knowledge, however, Orthodox Christians are the only Christians that still follow these customs.

Canon 69 of the Apostolic Canons called for the deposition of any bishop, presbyter, deacon, reader or singer who did not observe the Lenten fast and the excommunication of any layperson who did not observe the Lenten fast. The Apostolic Canons were understood to have originated in the 1st century, but were adopted and reinforced at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680/681. This canon still applies within the Eastern Orthodox Church; I believe it also is (or should be) recognized within the Roman Catholic Church. (Note: "Excommunication" in the Orthodox Christian understanding does not mean expulsion from the Church, but rather being excluded from the Eucharist for a time.)

There is a description of fasting/abstinence from certain foods in the Orthodox Christian tradition here. There is also a description of fasting by a Malaysian Orthodox Christian on this page.

(Aside: there are many traditions within Islam which actually came out of Christianity, including prostration and facing the east during prayer. Interestingly, these practices have been abandoned by the vast majority of Christians, but continue within Islam.)

  • Interesting note on Orthodox practice and Islam - Catholics and some Protestants also do prostrations though. – Evan Donovan Feb 22 '17 at 20:19
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Some Christian denominations forbid the eating of pork meat, but I unaware of any denomination forbidding the use of horse meat in their diets:

The Ethiopian Church places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant churches, and its followers adhere to certain practices that one finds in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Ethiopian Christians, like some other Eastern Christians, traditionally follow dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut, specifically with regard to how an animal is slaughtered. Similarly, pork is prohibited, though unlike Rabbinical Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine does mix dairy products with meat. - Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

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    I assume The Seventh-Day Adventists prohibit horse meat, for the same reasons the Jews prohibit it. Horses do not have a cloven hoof. – fredsbend Feb 22 '17 at 16:24
  • The zcc is another africa church that are also famous for there pork avoidence. – Neil Meyer Feb 22 '17 at 18:41
  • @fredsbend SDA actually avoid all meat, not merely non-kosher. – GalacticCowboy Feb 22 '17 at 20:57
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    @Galactic As a matter of dogma, they avoid non-kosher. As a matter of their "health message" they advocate vegetarian and even vegan. Plenty SDAs will eat kosher meat, just not frequently. – fredsbend Feb 22 '17 at 21:01
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    @fredbend: Although you are mostly right about advocacy to vegetarianism, "kosher" is not the word describing non-vegetarian adventists. Kosher means a lot of rules that we do not share/do not keep at all. Also, a lot of us will not use the word "vegan" either (some will), since it has some religious/philosophical implications that we do not necessarily share. I tried to explain this a bit better on this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/52309/… . Finally, we do not have "dogmas", just consensus in councils :) – nbloqs Feb 25 '17 at 6:32
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Although eating certain meat was prohibited by jewish law, this was part of the old covenant between man and God. A covenant traditionally ends when either participant dies, (in this case the jewish people and God) since Jesus died this covenant then came to an end.

As per Acts 10:9-15 it is made clear that this is no longer the case.

9The next day at about the sixth hour, as the men were approaching the city on their journey, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.

11He saw heaven open and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, as well as birds of the air. 13Then a voice spoke to him: “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”

14“No, Lord!” Peter answered, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15The voice spoke to him a second time: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

However, some denominations still do not eat meat.

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    "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:17-19) – the dark wanderer Feb 24 '17 at 5:33
  • "the law and prophets" was a common phrase that referred to the entirety of the Old Testament. He did not come to abolish or make void the Old Testament, but to fulfil it. When he says "Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments", note that he was likely referring to the commandments he gave to the people that were listening earlier on in the passage. – Piomicron Feb 24 '17 at 8:23
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