What Makes Food Different from Sexual Immorality? (1 Cor. 6:13)

What we eat is inconsequential, but that sexual immorality carries with it the most serious consequences possible.

Among the Seven Deadly Sins as formulated by medieval Christians, the deadly sin of Gluttony was always linked closely with the deadly sin of Lust and sexual immorality (Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian, 133). The fourth-century desert monk Evagrius of Pontus famously called gluttony the “mother of lust.” Even after the Reformation, the Westminster Larger Catechism includes gluttony as one of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment against adultery (WLC #139).

 

In 1 Corinthians 6:13, the Apostle Paul draws a contrast between food and sexual immorality:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Cor. 6:13)

Paul’s point is simple: God created food to be digested by our stomachs, and he fitted our stomachs to glean necessary nutrition from food. God did not, however, fit out bodies for sexual immorality in the same way.

Why, though, does Paul contrast food with sex? What is the link between the two?

Among the Seven Deadly Sins as formulated by medieval Christians, the deadly sin of Gluttony was always linked closely with the deadly sin of Lust and sexual immorality (Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian, 133). The fourth-century desert monk Evagrius of Pontus famously called gluttony the “mother of lust.” Even after the Reformation, the Westminster Larger Catechism includes gluttony as one of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment against adultery (WLC #139).

But again, why should we consider the issues of food and sex together? The simple explanation is that the two issues are linked through the body. Our bodies uniquely interact with food and sex in a way that is different from other activities.

In this case, however, a simple explanation is not quite sufficient. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 6:13 that what we eat is inconsequential, but that sexual immorality carries with it the most serious consequences possible.  It is critical that we understand the difference.

The False Religion of Food

Let’s start by considering the significance of food. In regard to food, there are two important contexts to consider: (1) the old covenant ceremonial laws that separated clean foods from unclean foods, and (2) the modern obsession with “clean eating.”

Old Covenant Ceremonial Food Laws

In the Mosaic covenant, God insisted that his people distinguish between clean and unclean foods. Importantly, though, God does not initially limit humankind to eating only clean foods.

We first see God’s distinctions between clean and unclean animals in Genesis 7. There, the Lord commands Noah to take seven pairs of all clean animals, but  “two and two, male and female” of whatever is unclean (Gen. 7:2–3, 8–9; cf. Gen. 8:20). After the flood, though, God gives explicitly every animal to humankind for food—clean and unclean alike (Gen. 9:3).

It is only much later that the Lord gives Israel a much stricter set of food regulations under the Mosaic covenant. The old covenant Israelites were not to eat all foods, but only the foods that God designated as clean (Lev. 11Deut. 14:1–21).

Then, in the New Testament, Jesus declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19). Then, Apostle Peter saw a vision three times that confirmed the cleanness of all foods (Acts 10:9–16). Thus, the Bible makes clear that the old covenant food laws were not part of God’s timeless, moral law. Rather, human beings ate all foods before and after God established his old covenant through Moses.

Permissible, forbidden, and then permissible again. Why establish these ceremonial food laws at all?

The Purpose of the Old Covenant Ceremonial Food Laws

The purpose of the external, physical ceremonial laws was to give us a picture of the internal, spiritual holiness that God seeks from his people.

The food laws, however, could only portray a picture of that holiness. Keeping the food laws could not bring about the reality of holiness in our lives. That is, the food laws pointed us in the right direction, but food could never bring us to our intended destination.

Read More