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In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that the food some would forbid was actually created by God “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth”:

3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. —1 Timothy 4:3-5 (NKJV, emphasis added)

What does it mean for food to be "received with thanksgiving" here? Is it referring to saying grace specifically, or is the reference more general? Thanks!

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The passage in 1 Tim 4:3-5 has occasioned much abuse by some fringe groups who use it as a pretext for eating toxic materials and poisonous food. Such a practice is equivalent to the "snake handlers" in some places who use Mark 16:18 as a "promise" that people who handle poisonous snakes will not be harmed by them and that such behavior is a sign of divine approval.

Such ideas are quite presumptuous - David prayed a prayer to avoid such ideas:

Ps 19:13 - Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

See also 2 Peter 2:10. Albert Barnes expands on this matter - see appendix below.

The passage by Paul in 1 Tim 4:4 appears to be a very sensible rule to prevent the rising tide of Gnosticism (and Judaizers) that declared some food "unclean", etc, but had no basis in either fact or theology.

Thus, Paul is suggesting that all food be recognizes as coming from God and the ultimate provider (perhaps with grace at the meal?) Note the comments of Ellicott:

And nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.—Every kind of food and drink may become hateful in the eyes of the all-pure God if misused, if partaken of without any sense of gratitude to the Divine giver. But nothing which can be made use of as food ought to be regarded as unclean or as polluted; every kind of food is intended for man, the only condition being that whatever is partaken of should be gratefully received by him as a gift.

APPENDIX - Barnes on 1 Tim 4:4

Apples and peaches were made good, and are still useful and proper as articles of food; rye and Indian-corn are good, and are admirably adapted to the support of man and beast, but it does not follow that all that "man" can make of them is necessarily good. He extracts from them a poisonous liquid, and then says that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused." But is this a fair use of this passage of Scripture? True, they "are" good - they "are" to be received with gratitude as he made them, and as applied to the uses for which he designed them; but why apply this passage to prove that a deleterious beverage, which "man" has extracted from what God has made, is good also, and good for all the purposes to which it can be applied? As "God" made these things, they are good. As man perverts them, it is no longer proper to call them the "creation of God," and they may be injurious in the highest degree. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced to vindicate the use of intoxicating drinks. As employed by the apostle, it had no such reference, nor does it contain any "principle" which can properly receive any such application.

And nothing to be refused - Nothing that God has made, for the purposes for which he designed it. The necessity of the case the "exigency of the passage" - requires this interpretation. It "cannot" mean that we are not to refuse poison if offered in our food, or that we are never to refuse food that is to us injurious or offensive; nor can it anymore mean that we are to receive "all" that may be offered to us as a beverage. The sense is, that as God made it, and for the purposes for which he designed it, it is not to be held to be evil; or, which is the same thing, it is not to be prohibited as if there were merit in abstaining from it. It is not to be regarded as a religious duty to abstain from food which God has appointed for the support of man.

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  • Thanks! After Paul said the foods should be "received with thanksgiving" in the passage, he then explained, "for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." According to Barnes's commentary on verse 5, the "word of God" references God's permission to eat it, while "prayer" references praying leading to gratitude. Does sanctification by the word of God and prayer explain what it means to receive food with thanksgiving? If so, does receiving food with thanksgiving refer specifically to saying a prayer of thanksgiving right before partaking of the meal, or is the meaning broader than that?
    – The Editor
    Jul 20 '21 at 14:00
  • @TheEditor - First, "sanctification" simply means setting apart for a special purpose - in this case, set apart as food to be consumed by Christians; Second, a prayer of thanks giving is what, in modern times, is called the grace before the meal. However, I would also include the Christian's more general prayer life and requests for protection in this as well.
    – Dottard
    Jul 20 '21 at 21:34
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As Saul, Paul had only eaten kosher food. Peter's vision set a new standard for Christianity. That is the word of God along with the covenant with Noah. Now Paul gave that standard based on prayer and thankfulness. It was food received with thankful heart in prayer that now made food kosher. While prayer is not absolutely essential for thankfulness, it does help us express thankfulness as a reminder. On the other hand, prayer without true thankfulness is insufficient.

 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:10–16, ESV)

Paul also viewed the Gentiles as under the covenant with Noah:

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (Gen. 9:3–4, ESV)

This was also according to the Jerusalem counsel.

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. (Acts 15:28–29, ESV)

This passage is a fuller expression of what Paul means:

All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:23–33, ESV)

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  • Thanks! After Paul said the foods should be "received with thanksgiving" in the passage, he then explained, "for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." Does sanctification by the word of God and prayer explain what it means to receive food with thanksgiving? If so, does receiving food with thanksgiving refer specifically to saying a prayer of thanksgiving right before partaking of the meal, or is the meaning broader than that?
    – The Editor
    Jul 20 '21 at 13:56
  • Note after this sentence added the following sentence: Peter's vision set a new standard for Christianity. That is the word of God along with the covenant with Noah.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 20 '21 at 14:59
  • See edited 11st paragraph.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 20 '21 at 15:04
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Paul speaks of the new covenant. Not the old with its unclean foods and practices that were bound to time and days etc.

Some foods are better left uneaten as they are simply unhealthy. But Paul says that even these things are to be prayed over with thankfulness and we will be OK to eat them.

It is a matter of faith that we pray, not for God to fix the bad, unclean or contaminated foods, but that He would ensure we are not troubled for eating - either physically or spiritually.

For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.

While we may want prime steak, when we have old fruit, we still pray with thankfulness for what we do have, not harbouring resentment for what we don't have.

Paul further points to the true food with spiritual nourishment as having greater importance - this should be our focus rather than worrying about physical food.

you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have been following. v6

The main point is of prayer and that in giving thanks for God who provides our need. Paul is not advocating eat whatever you want and you will be fine. God gave us fine minds and wisdom to eat what is appropriate with moderation. To abuse this basic concept is to invite poor health and serious harm.

1
  • Thanks! After Paul said the foods should be "received with thanksgiving" in the passage, he then explained, "for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." Does sanctification by the word of God and prayer explain what it means to receive food with thanksgiving? If so, does receiving food with thanksgiving refer specifically to saying a prayer of thanksgiving right before partaking of the meal, or is the meaning broader than that?
    – The Editor
    Jul 20 '21 at 14:01

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