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Did any in the Early Church require a kosher diet? and Did any of the early church fathers believe they had to follow dietary laws? ask about what early Christians believed with respect to Jewish dietary laws.

I want to ask a related question: are there any records of actual practice? In particular, are there any records that early Christian converts did any of the following:

  • Began to eat non-Kosher foods (pork, shellfish, meat cooked in milk, etc.) when they had not done so previously. (Especially interesting if any Jewish converts did so.)
  • Stopped eating non-Kosher foods when they had done so previously. (Would presumably apply only to Gentile converts for obvious reasons.)
  • Ate non-Kosher foods previously and continued to do so. (Again, presumably applies only to Gentiles.)

As there was not necessarily uniformity of practice, valid answers might have examples of any or all of the above. Please refer to the referenced questions for relevant theology; here I am only asking about what actually happened, not why.

(This has incomplete overlap with Are there or have there been any Christian traditions that follow Kosher food laws?. That asks about Christians at any time that do follow Kosher. I am asking about early Christians specifically, and both ones that do and do not follow Kosher.)

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    I don't see how this adds anything. Is there somebody in the early church who decided to keep the dietary laws of their own volition because they felt like it? Extremely probably, just like there are some people who are vegetarian today. Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 18:54
  • @DJClayworth, true, that (my second bullet) is the least interesting. I think the other two would be interesting, however.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 20:07

2 Answers 2

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To the first question the answer is yes, some in the early Church followed a kosher diet. We know this from the Acts' report that there were Pharisees in the early Church who not only followed the Torah themselves but expected Gentiles to act as observant Jews in order to be accepted as members of the congregation.

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” (acts 15:5-6)

Keeping the law of Moses included a kosher diet, at least as described in the Torah and probably including refinements as developed by Pharisaic tradition (Oral Torah). In addition, Galatians 2 describes an argument in the congregation at Antioch, in which certain "men from James" ate separately from Gentile converts. Underlying this were issues related to kosher laws. There is nothing in the Hebrew Bible that prevents Jews from eating with Gentiles, but later rabbinical tradition was indeed concerned about keeping a kosher kitchen and utensils; so the food for the general congregation at Antioch might not be considered strictly kosher.

To the second question, none of the Church Fathers is known to have kept a kosher diet.

The OP's bulleted points

  1. The Book of Acts contains a clear report of Peter, who formerly followed kosher laws, changing his mind about this.

He became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:10-16)

While this episode only relates to Peter's mindset, it is followed immediately by his fellowship with the Centurion Cornelius who certainly must have offered his guest food and did not keep a kosher kitchen. Whether he served forbidden foods such as shellfish and pork is uncertain. We may also presume that in the Pauline churches, people who once followed the kosher tradition of the "men from James" and other "Judaizers" eventually changed their practice and began eating non-kosher foods.

  1. The evidence for people adopting a kosher diet after previously not keeping kosher is somewhat indirect, but it can be inferred from Paul's arguments against the so-called "Judaizers" who expected converts to keep the law of Moses as described in Acts 15. This issue also relates to "food offered to idols," which was forbidden not only to Jews but also to Christians in Acts 15 and Revelation 2. The fact that this was an issue in several churches at the time when Revelation was written indicates that at least this aspect of Jewish dietary law was practiced by Gentile Christians for several decades. The same may be said of the kosher law against eating food that has been strangled and/or not properly butchered.

It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:28-29)

  1. There were certainly Gentile Christians who ate non-kosher food prior to converting and continued to do so. This tradition must have been one of the most attractive parts of Paul's version of Christian tradition, as opposed to that of the Judaizers, who insisted at least on circumcision and probably adherence to a kosher diet as well.

The above evidence shows that some in the Early Church did keep a kosher diet. However, by the time that the Church Fathers began to write, this tradition was no longer in evidence except among pockets of increasingly marginalized Jewish Christians. For details on the OP's bulleted points see the relevant numbered paragraphs above.


Note: the OP mentions meat cooked in milk. It is not known if, at the time in question, this was a widely accepted interpretation of the Torah law against cooking a kid in its mother's milk. (Exodus 23:19 etc.) In later centuries, it became a major bone of contention between rabbinical Judaism and the Karaites, who follow only the letter of the Torah and reject the Oral Law of the rabbis.

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  • Good point on the meat+dairy being possibly a bad example; I threw it out partly as a well-known example of something other than the prohibitions against eating a) specific animals or b) blood to illustrate that I don't mean to limit the scope to only those two points. As to early Christians continuing to keep Kosher, that's obviously not very interesting, which is why it doesn't appear in the list of specific examples requested.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 20:14
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    I've seen it claimed that Peter's vision in Acts 10 is symbolic (n.b. v28), and Acts 15 doesn't imply that those in question were already eating non-Kosher food. Do you have any more conclusive evidence that Peter broke Kosher after his vision, or that those Christians mentioned in Acts 15 were already eating non-Kosher food? When you say "none of the Church Fathers is known to have kept Kosher", do you mean that we just don't know if they did or didn't, or do we know that they did not? (p.s. I suspect non-Biblical sources might be helpful!)
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 20:18
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    In particular, I don't think it follows that Cornelius didn't keep Kosher, as he is described as "an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation".
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 20:19
  • He was a God-fearer but if he had kept the entire Torah law including circumcision and purity/dietary laws, Peter would not have told him “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation," for he would be, like Peter, a Jew. Nor would it be necessary for Luke to tell us that God gave Peter a revelation immediately prior to this instructing him to eat forbidden food. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 1:08
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    Whether Peter's vision is symbolic or not, its purpose in the narrative is to prepare us for Peter's visit the Cornelius. I don't have further evidence of Peter eating non-kosher food. One thing I often wonder about is how carefully non-Pharisaic Jews kept kosher in those days, especially those who lived in the backwaters of Galilee. about the Church fathers I mean that none of them reports that he kept kosher, as far as I know.– Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 1:21
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Did early Christian converts follow Kosher?

Possibly, but it may might be unprovable with historical sources.

Certainly Jewish converts would have continued with their dietary requirements which would have been acceptable in the Early Church.

Pagan converts soon outnumbered Jewish converts. It would seem that the dishes on the table of the members of most of the Early Christian communities were similar to those of their pagan neighbors. The anonymous author of the “Epistle to Diognetus” (150 AD.) – one of the first Christian texts that reached us, said: “As for excessive daintiness of Jews in food … – all this is so ridiculous and not worth a word … (Christians) living in Hellenic and barbarian cities follow the customs of those inhabitants … in food and in everything else. ” Tertullian (an early Christian apologist) echoed him: “… (Christians) live with you, … use the same food, the same clothes, they have the same household and the same everyday needs.” The Early Christians did not do any thing to stand out in custom, dress or diet! They tried to blend in as best as possible in order to avoid persecution.

Diognetus

Chapter 4

4:1 But again their [Jewish] scruples concerning meats, and their superstition relating to the sabbath and the vanity of their circumcision and the dissimulation of their fasting and new moons, I do [not] suppose you need to learn from me, are ridiculous and unworthy of any consideration.

Chapter 5

5:1 For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs.

5:2 For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.

5:3 Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are.

5:4 But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.

5:5 They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.

The only possible community to follow a truly kosher diet since Apostolic Times would be the Christian communities in Ethiopia. The other Christian communities which soon Out numbered the Jewish converts most certainly did not follow kosher dietary laws.

There may not any historical evidence at hand, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, follows a very ancient tradition of observing many ancient Jewish Biblical kosher laws as prescribed in the Old Testament. There is no reason to presume that their traditions did not start in themselves in the Early Church. This may have been because of their isolation in regards to other Christian communities at that time and their closeness to the Jewish communities in Ethiopia.

Conversions in Ethiopia grew so rapidly in the first few centuries of [Christendom] (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization) that in 325 A.D., the Kingdom of Aksum (Modern Ethiopia and Eritrea) became the second country to declare Christianity as its official state religion after Armenia. To this day believers of the Ethiopian Church requires that one follows a kosher diet in some stricter than that of some Jewish communities.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Many traditions claim that Christian teachings were introduced to the region immediately after Pentecost. John Chrysostom speaks of the "Ethiopians present in Jerusalem" as being able to understand the preaching of Peter in Acts 2:38. Possible missions of some of the Apostles in the lands now called Ethiopia is also reported as early as the 4th century. Socrates of Constantinople includes Ethiopia in his list as one of the regions preached by Matthew the Apostle, where a specific mention of "Ethiopia south of the Caspian Sea" can be confirmed in some traditions such as the Roman Catholic Church among others. Ethiopian Church tradition tells that Bartholomew accompanied Matthew in a mission which lasted for at least three months. Paintings depicting these missions can be seen in the Church of St. Matthew found in the Province of Pisa, in northern Italy portrayed by Francesco Trevisan (1650–1740) and Marco Benefial (1688–1764).

The earliest account of an Ethiopian converted to the faith in the New Testament books is a royal official baptized by Philip the Evangelist (distinct from Philip the Apostle), one of the seven deacons (Acts, 8:26–27):

Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure. (Acts, 8:26–27) The passage continues by describing how Philip helped the Ethiopian treasurer understand a passage from the Book of Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading. After Philip interpreted the passage as prophecy referring to Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian requested that Philip baptize him, and Philip did so. The Ethiopic version of this verse reads "Hendeke" (ህንደኬ); Queen Gersamot Hendeke VII was the Queen of Ethiopia from c. 42 to 52. Where the possibility of gospel missions by the Ethiopian eunuch cannot be directly inferred from the Books of the New Testament, Irenaeus of Lyons around 180 AD writes that "Simon Backos" preached the good news in his homeland outlining also the theme of his preaching as being the coming in flesh of God that "was preached to you all before." The same kind of witness is shared by 3rd and 4th century writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Origen of Alexandria.

Early Christianity became the established church of the Ethiopian Axumite Kingdom under king Ezana in the 4th century when priesthood and the sacraments were brought for the first time through a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known by the local population in Ethiopia as "Selama, Kesaté Birhan" ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"). As a youth, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and baptized Emperor Ezana. Frumentius is also believed to have established the first monastery in Ethiopia, named Dabba Selama after him. In 2016, scientists excavated a 4th-century AD basilica (radio-carbon dated) in northeastern Ethiopia at a site called Beta Samati. This is the earliest known physical evidence of a church in sub-Saharan Africa.

Traditions

The faith and practice of Orthodox Ethiopian Christians include elements from Miaphysite Christianity as it has developed in Ethiopia over the centuries. Christian beliefs include belief in God (in Ge'ez / Amharic, ′Egziabeher, lit. "Lord of the Universe"), veneration of the Virgin Mary, the angels, and the saints, besides others. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church itself, there are no non-Christian elements in the religion other than those from the Old Testament, or Higge 'Orit (ሕገ ኦሪት),[citation needed] to which are added those from the New Testament, or Higge Wongiel (ሕገ ወንጌል). A hierarchy of Kidusan/ቅዱሳን (angelic messengers and saints) conveys the prayers of the faithful to God and carries out the divine will, so when an Ethiopian Christian is in difficulty, he or she appeals to them as well as to God. In more formal and regular rituals, priests communicate on behalf of the community, and only priests may enter the inner sanctum of the usually circular or octagonal church where the tabot ("ark") dedicated to the church's patron saint is housed. On important religious holidays, the tabot is carried on the head of a priest and escorted in procession outside the church. It is the tabot, not the church, which is consecrated. At many services, most parish members remain in the outer ring, where debteras sing hymns and dance.

Similarities to Judaism and Islam

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 the slaughter of animals. Similarly, pork is prohibited, though unlike Rabbinical Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine does mix dairy products with meat, which in turn makes it even closer to Karaite and Islamic dietary laws (see Halal). Women are prohibited from entering the church temple during menses; they are also expected to cover their hair with a large scarf (or shash) while in church, as described in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. As with Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately in the Ethiopian church, with men on the left and women on the right (when facing the altar). (Women covering their heads and separation of the sexes in churches officially is common to some other Christian traditions; it is also the rule in some non-Christian religions, Islam and Orthodox Judaism among them).

Before praying, they wash their hands and face in order to be clean before and present their best to God; shoes are removed in order to acknowledge that one is offering prayer before a holy God. Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers remove their shoes when entering a church temple, in accordance with Exodus 3:5 (in which Moses, while viewing the burning bush, was commanded to remove his shoes while standing on holy ground). Furthermore, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church upholds Sabbatarianism, observing the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday), in addition to the Lord's Day (Sunday), although more emphasis, because of the Resurrection of Christ, is laid upon Sunday.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church calls for male circumcision, with near-universal prevalence among Orthodox men in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox practice circumcision as a rite of passage, and they circumcise their sons "anywhere from the first week of life to the first few year".

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes several kinds of hand washing and traditionally follow rituals that are similar to Jewish netilat yadayim, for example after leaving the latrine, lavatory or bathhouse, or before prayer, or after eating a meal. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church observes days of ritual purification. People who are ritually unclean may approach the church but are not permitted to enter it; they instead stand near the church door and pray during the liturgy.

Interesting note also is that in Ethiopia, the new day starts at sundown, just as the Jewish tradition holds to this day!

Because Ethiopia is close to the Equator, daylight is pretty consistent throughout the year. So many Ethiopians use a 12-hour clock, with one cycle of 1 to 12 — from dawn to dusk — and the other cycle from dusk to dawn.

Most countries start the day at midnight. So 7:00 a.m. in East Africa Time, Ethiopia's time zone, is 1:00 in daylight hours in local Ethiopian time. At 7:00 p.m., East Africa Time, Ethiopians start over again, so it's 1:00 on their 12-hour clock. - If you have a meeting in Ethiopia, you'd better double check the time

The Ethiopian Church also claims that one of its churches, Our Lady Mary of Zion, is host to the original Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried with the Israelites during the Exodus.

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Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

Some years ago, I had the grace to encounter many Ethiopian priests that were traveling through our area and I assure you that they firmly believe that their dietary traditions go back to the very foundations of their Church. They see no reason to change their traditions... Nevertheless, they did not criticize others for their dietary rules or etiquette.

In the end, no one will be able find a source from the Early Church history that forbids non-kosher meat, since it is not immoral to follow such a tradition. Certainly Jewish converts would naturally keep to this biblical tradition. But after Peter’s vision of Acts 10:11 (Peter's vision of a sheet with animals) non kosher foods were permitted. One would be hard pressed to prove this last point one way or anther. Kosher dietary laws are not mentioned in historical records from that time frame. Nowhere will one find that the kosher diet was an obligation in the Early Church.

The traditional view is that the kosher laws are not applicable to the Church. It is pointed out that the Jewish leaders of the Early Church simply settled on three recommendations for Gentile believers, link: to abstain from things polluted by idols, from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:19,20). Today, believers have died with Christ, and those who have died are not bound by the Law. To quote Paul:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14)

But what law is Paul referring to? The Ten Commandments are essentially a summary of the entire Old Testament law. Apart from the fourth commandment (remembering the Sabbath day), the other nine commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and the greatest of these is to love God (Mat 22:37-38). Now loving God means keeping His word (Jn 14:23), and Leviticus 11 is God’s word. As we have seen, the food laws were given to Israel as a daily reminder to be holy, and they did this by avoiding things not designed by God for human consumption. So why shouldn’t the church follow the same wisdom? If the church rejects God’s words of wisdom, is she still loving God?

That said, most Christians still reject kosher and quote well-known NT texts in their defence. - Kosher Laws and Christianity

Let us recall that upon leaving the Ark, God told Noah that every moving thing that lives could be eaten (Gen 9:3). Did this mean that Noah could now eat the offspring of the animals God had previously declared to him as unclean (Gen 7:2)? Was Noah now permitted to consume snails and mice and sit down to roast pig – creatures declared as unclean in Lev 11 and Deut 14?

Let us remember that the edible dormouse (Glis glis) was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome, either as a savoury appetizer or as a dessert (dipped in honey and poppy seeds). The Romans used a special kind of enclosure, a glirarium, to raise and fatten dormice for the table.

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    "The other Christian communities which soon outnumbered the Jewish converts most certainly did not follow kosher dietary laws". "After Peter’s vision of Acts 10:11, non-Kosher foods were permitted". Citation needed. If you could provide historical evidence of these claims, not just anecdotal evidence based on modern practice, that would make for a useful answer.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 22:36
  • "Nowhere will one find that the kosher diet was an obligation in the Early Church.". Perhaps true, but it's equally true that nowhere will one find that the kosher diet was not an obligation. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:53
  • @RayButterworth, Acts 15 begs to differ. Yes, it's unclear whether that refers to Kosher, specifically, but I don't think it's fair to entirely disregard it, either. Besides, it is implied that imposing Kosher law is the same as imposing all the law, and it seems pretty clear that Christians are not under the Old Covenant. To be honest, your crusade to convince Christians that they must follow Kosher seems to resonate quite strongly with the Judaizers of the early Church.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 2:58
  • @Matthew says "Acts 15 begs to differ". Acts 15 concerns gentile proselytes, not yet converted. Expecting people that are curious about this religion to instantly obey all its laws is unreasonable and will only serve to scare them away. Requiring them to obey at least the Noahide laws makes them look respectable to the Jewish community, and in particular gives them access to the scriptures in the synagogues, which is exactly what people just learning need to read. Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 3:28
  • @Matthew says "your crusade to convince Christians that they must follow Kosher seems to resonate quite strongly with the Judaizers of the early Church" — Thank you. Along with "heretic", the term "Judaizer" was used by a church that had deviated from the faith once given as a derogatory term against those that refused to go along with the changes.Throughout history, most of those called heretics tend to be those people that object to new or changed doctrines. Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 3:32

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