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In To the Hebrews 13:9, is the author saying that kosher laws are useless and pointless?

Heb 13:9 Stop being carried away by all kinds of unusual teachings, for it is good that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by food laws that have never helped those who follow them. International Standard Version

This seems to be related:

ISV Heb 9:9 This illustration for today indicates that the gifts and sacrifices being offered could not clear the conscience of a worshiper, Heb 9:10 since they deal only with food, drink, and various washings, which are required for the body until the time when things would be set right.

This is something from Paul that might be relevant:

1Co 8:8 However, food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat food that has been offered to an idol, and no better off if we do.

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  • I'm a bit confused. Do you believe the author is warning about food sacrificed to idols, or do you think this verse has to do with ceremonial cleanliness? Or do you believe the dietary laws have been abolished?
    – Cannabijoy
    Jul 26, 2016 at 3:17
  • @anonymouswho I'm open. It is an odd verse.
    – user10231
    Jul 26, 2016 at 5:26
  • Who knows? Hebrews may be more symbolic than Revelation, or it may be a bunch of nonsense. Is it trying to deceive us into believing Yeshua was offered as some sort of atoning sacrifice to fulfill the Levitical system and a god's lust for human blood, or is it speaking metaphorically of the kingdom of God within us? My heart won't let me give it up just yet, but this seems like an excellent place to put it to the test and see if it stands.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jul 26, 2016 at 5:50
  • @anonymouswho Metaphor upon metaphor upon "the Christ event".
    – user10231
    Jul 26, 2016 at 5:57
  • A symbol may point to a certain concept (in this case, [un]cleanness), but cannot substitute itself for the actual reality (i.e., discerning clean meats from unclean ones might be a good reminder and/or exercise for choosing good over evil, no matter how much the latter might kindle our appetites [pun intended], but, in and of itself, does not guarantee that that's what will necessarily happen when the soul is tempted in the unbearable furnace of lust, hatred, greed, jealousy, pride, etc).
    – Lucian
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:39

4 Answers 4

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This verse may refer to Jewish food laws, however the following verses provide some context that could refer to the Mosaic sacrificial banquets, as we see in the New American Bible footnote to Hebrews 13:9:

Strange teaching: this doctrine about foods probably refers to the Jewish food laws; in view of Hebrews 13:10, however, the author may be thinking of the Mosaic sacrificial banquets.

Meyer's NT Commentary says the majority of commentators believe this refers to the Levitical ordinances concerning pure and impure food, but goes on to say the expression is more applicable to the enjoyment of sacred meats than to the avoiding of unclean meats.

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  • An excellent point. The common Christian approach is to conflate the entire sacrificial system into the sin sacrifice, completely ignoring the fellowship and peace offerings at which a meal was shared. The Day of Atonement is elevated to the holiest day of the year, despite the fact people were not even required to be present and overlooking the requirement to be present at Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Booths, all times of celebration and fellowship. Jul 24, 2016 at 22:19
  • "Mosaic sacrificial banquets"... would that be the feasts (in the previous comment)? Or the fact that for the Levites the altar served as an awesome BBQ? And how would either be "strange" (of foreign origin)?
    – user10231
    Jul 24, 2016 at 22:49
  • Remember that opinion is still somewhat divided on the meaning of this passage, but my understanding that the reference to 'feasts' would mean special occasions. Meyer says ξέναι, because they are opposed to the spirit of Christianity Jul 24, 2016 at 23:10
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Short answer:

Paul is certainly not disavowing the kosher laws! He is urging the Jewish believers to reject the strange doctrines and arguments being used to sow confusion.

He likens doctrines to meat, and the believers to priests. The Aaronic priests while in service at the Temple eat certain meats brought in sacrifice. Believers in Jesus / Yeshua are also priests of a separate order (Melchi-Tzedek), and therefore have meat to eat (the New Testament doctrines of salvation through repentance) that are different and higher than those of the Aaronic priests (the Temple sacrifices).

In no way is Paul saying the old laws are passed away, nor is he saying that the Aaronic priesthood has no use any more.

Long answer:

The passage from 1 Corinthians you quoted uses some of the same words but is not really related. I will focus on Hebrews here.

Hebrews 13 is the closing of the letter and Paul is basically making some final remarks. The outline of the chapter is almost of seemingly unrelated bullet points:

  • Let brotherly love continue.
  • Be not forgetful to entertain strangers...
  • Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them...
  • Marriage is honourable in all...
  • Let your conversation be without covetousness...
  • Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God...
  • Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines...
  • Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves...
  • Pray for us...
  • Now the God of peace ... make you perfect in every good work to do his will...
  • Suffer the word of exhortation...
  • Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty...
  • Salute all them that have the rule over you...
  • Grace be with you all. Amen.

The bolded point he spends more time on, verses 9 to 16. All this to demonstrate, verses 9 to 16 constitute the complete immediate context. However, by reference this section may tie itself to earlier sections of the letter. There is some correspondence to chapter 9, but not exactly I think.

Verse by verse, using King James Version 1769 text:

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.

This sets the point of reference for what follows. We must remember at all times that he is talking about doctrines, the true ones versus the 'strange' ones being proffered to the Jewish believers.

Paul does not go into detail of what exactly he is responding to. But we can infer that this section serves as a refutation for these 'strange' doctrines based on the scriptures.

For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;

Grace is the means by which we may approach God in Spirit.

A key understanding here is that in Hebrew, korban is usually translated as "sacrifice" but it literally means "approach" or "come near". The only way to approach God is in sacrifice. (Exodus 23:15 "... and none shall appear before me empty[-handed].")

Hebrews 9 goes into an extensive discussion and comparison of the fact that the Aaronic priests can only approach the divine presence through animal sacrifice, but Jesus / Yeshua has sacrificed himself, and his blood is more pure than that of a bull or goat or red heifer. His sacrifice makes it possible for us to approach God without entering the Temple.

not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

This seems to be the critical confusion at issue. 'Meats' here is a reference to a sacrificial animal, not to the kosher dietary laws.

The sacrifices do not "establish the heart", their purpose is to atone for sins. Only God's grace is sufficient; otherwise the sacrifice of Jesus / Yeshua would have been unnecessary. Paul touches on this theme in several of his letters.

In many cases the Aaronic priests do eat the sacrificed meat, and offered grains, partly because the law prohibits them from owning their own land or cattle. But consumption of the meat is not the focus here; the sacrifice of the animal is the focus.

Animal sacrifice "has not profited them" for reasons discussed in the earlier chapters. Animal sacrifice only "covers" sin, it does not "remove" sin; and animal sacrifices must be repeatedly offered. This is not to say it is pointless! To claim the animal sacrifices are pointless is to mock the ordinances of God! But the sacrifice of Jesus / Yeshua is more potent because with that one sacrifice the sins of many are removed.

Also, as another answer points out, your International Standard Version contains here a deceptive distortion of scripture! Your translation says "food laws" but in the Greek it is only the plural "meats" (sometimes translated "foods"). The Greek does not say "laws" or "instructions" here. The translator has inserted his own opinion into the work, willfully distorting the Greek text! Get another Bible to compare with. I recommend the generally excellent New King James Version, which says "foods" here - accurate, but in my opinion not as clear as "meats".

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

The believers in Jesus / Yeshua, including the Jewish ones, constitute a separate priestly order of Melchi-Tzedek, of which Jesus / Yeshua is now the High Priest forever (Psalm 110:4). Aaronic priests who are not believers in Yeshua are excluded from the Melchi-Tzedek priesthood and cannot approach God in the same way.

For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.

A reference to Leviticus 4. The atonement for unintentional sin is to bring a bull, or goat, or ewe in sacrifice, and the bulk of the carcass must be burned to ashes outside the boundary of the camp - implying that in sacrificing it, the carcass becomes unclean as it is burned. (None of the meat is to be consumed by any priest.)

Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.

Paul argues that the suffering and death of Jesus / Yeshua follows the type of the sin offering, and also serves as an atonement for sin.

Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jewish believers in Jesus / Yeshua may approach God's presence without having to enter the Temple, bearing the blood of Yeshua instead of an animal sacrifice.

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

Jerusalem is the earthly place within the Land of Israel where God chose to establish his divine presence in the Temple. In olam haba (the world/age to come), there will be a 'new Jerusalem' (Revelation 22). Side note, it is interesting that Paul references the city to come decades before John received the Revelation!

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

Finally we learn what we are to offer as we approach God's presence - our praise.

But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Our good deeds and fruitful relationships are also suitable to present to God as we approach His presence.

And so we see, in detailed analysis, we find nowhere any indication that Paul seeks to discard the old laws. (And the dietary laws are actually not relevant, because the discussion is of sacrifice.) Rather, the laws are critical to understanding how we relate to God in the New Covenant!

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The Apostle concludes the Epistle with exhortations to the Royal Priesthood, giving helpful suggestions as to brotherly love, hospitality, contentment, and submission to those whom we believe to be over us in the Lord. (Chapter 13:7-17)

He tells us to avoid (meats) new Gospels and to remember that as the earthly priesthood was nourished by the things of the altar, so we have a right to eat of a spiritual altar, of which others may not eat. He then calls attention to the sin-offering (vs 10), that they were all burned outside the camp. Jesus, as the antitype of the bullock, was not only crucified outside the gate of Jerusalem but suffered as an outcast from the social and religious systems of the time.

Apostle Paul urges that we, as the Royal Priesthood (typified by the Lord's goat of Leviticus 16), shall also go forth sacrificially outside the camp to suffer with Christ's social ostracism, and with deadness toward the world. He fixes by this passage our identity with "the Lord's goat" of Leviticus 16. by assuring us that only the blood of the sin-offerings is taken within the vail--to sprinkle the mercy seat. He also identifies this sin-offering by suggesting that the bodies of those beasts whose blood propitiated for sin were burned outside the camp.

In exhorting the Church to follow the Lord in this experience, he clearly identifies our Lord with the bullock of the Day of Atonement and the Church with the Lord's goat, which followed all of the bullock's experiences.

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  • If this weren't all in bold, and were broken up into logical paragraphs, more people would take the time to read it. Jan 6, 2023 at 20:12
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I don't think that would make a lot of sense. This letter was definitely written to the Hebrews, so "kosher" laws would hardly be "strange" to them. You're translation is a bit deceptive though. It puts the word "laws" after food, but this was added by the translator. The Greek says:

διδαχαῖς (by teachings) ποικίλαις (multiple) καὶ (and) ξέναις (new/ foreign) μὴ (not) παραφέρεσθε (be carried away) καλὸν (good) γὰρ (indeed) χάριτι (by favor) βεβαιοῦσθαι (to be established) τὴν (for the) καρδίαν (heart), οὐ (not) βρώμασιν (to foods), ἐν (in) οἷς (which) οὐκ (not) ὠφελήθησαν (were profited) οἱ (those) περιπατοῦντες (being devoted)

That word ξέναις means "new" or "foreign", so the author cannot be talking about anything that concerns the Law. This seems to be metaphorical, since it doesn't make much sense that one could "walk according to" or "be devoted" to foods. Yeshua says:

"Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed." John 6:27

In this way, food may be understood as "that which is consumed". I think this would make sense given the context, since the author goes on to say that we have an "alter from which to eat", and that those serving the "tent" or "flesh" do not have authority to eat from it. This may tie in with verse 15, which says to offer the sacrifice of praise "a fruit of lips confessing the name of him". This is similar to what Peter says:

"As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:

If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:2

And:

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" 1 Peter 2:11

Also when Yeshua talked to Peter:

"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs." John 21:15

Most assume that Paul wrote Hebrews, but the lack of personal pronouns make it obvious he didn't. Others believe it was Barnabas, Apollos, or another that was influenced by Paul. Martin Luther didn't care for Hebrews because it explicitly contradicts Paul. But I believe the opposite- that Paul was influenced by Peter, and Peter wrote Hebrews and 1 Peter. Even the early church noticed how flawless the Greek is in Hebrews, as though whoever wrote it had a perfect knowledge of the Greek "tongue". So maybe in order to understand Hebrews, we have to understand Peter. And to understand Peter, we have to understand Yeshua. And to understand any of it, we have to understand the word of God:

"And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of YHVH doth man live." Deuteronomy 8:3

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  • First time I see someone serious suggest authorship of Hebrews to Peter when he clearly didn't write possibly anything himself!!! So Hebrews wrote Mark, kinda ignoring whole authorship research. :)))
    – Enoch
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:23
  • Hello @user12422. I'll try to post a question about this later tonight, but why would you say Peter couldn't possible write anything himself? Is it impossible that a fisherman could suddenly have knowledge of a language he never knew? "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13
    – Cannabijoy
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:34
  • Because Mark wrote it
    – Enoch
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:54
  • Authorship of Hebrews is not relevant. But I've never understood the denial of Paul's authorship. All based on it 'reading different'. Hebrews is a general epistle and all his other epistles are to a specific assembly. No further justification for the difference in style is needed. For those who insist on more, an original Aramaic manuscript being translated into Greek by a different scribe than the other epistles should suffice. The 2nd-3rd century Papyrus 46 starts with Romans then Hebrews, then Paul's other letters. There's just no good reason for all the doubting.
    – wberry
    Jan 11, 2023 at 3:01
  • It's very important, you flagging up the fact that "Your translation is a bit deceptive though. It puts the word "laws" after food, but this was added by the translator." The translation used by the OP is more than a little bit deceptive!
    – Anne
    Jan 17, 2023 at 14:08

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