Eating Customs in the Bible
What the Bible Says About Eating
As most people know, people must eat to keep living. The Bible says a lot about eating and food. God created food to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment including food, according to 1 Timothy 4:3; 6:17.
The Bible is loaded with references about food from Genesis to Revelation. Food was involved when the serpent tempted the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden. Food is mentioned 90 times in the Gospels. Eating is mentioned at least 109 times.
Meals in the Bible
The food eaten in the Bible depended on the occasion and the host's wealth.
Meals consisted mostly of vegetables. Meat wasn't eaten every day. It was eaten when serving strangers or honored guests.
Grains were an important part of the meal. Bread was eaten by itself or with something to increase its flavor, such as with broth. Fruits and fish were favorite parts of biblical meals.
Esau thought pottage was worth trading his birthright for.
God's View of Food
Food demonstrates our dependence upon God. Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s leading in their lives when He provided food for them to eat in the desert. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Food demonstrates God’s goodness when He provides it.
We usually have three main meals a day. Biblical meals did not include breakfast, lunch, and dinner like we have. Regular meals in the Bible were eaten in the morning and in the evening, according to Exodus 16:12 and John 21:45.
There were only two regular meals in the Bible. Breakfast consisted of a light meal in the morning that included bread, fruits, and cheese. The ﬁrst meal of the day did not call for any cooking and was simply a 'morning morsel' consisting of bread and olives, with an onion or any other fruit or vegetable which might be in season. A heavy breakfast was a matter for reproach (Ecclesiastes 10:16). It was eaten between 9 a.m. and noon.
The mid-day meal, if there was one, would be eaten at noon in the ﬁelds or at home and would consist of bread soaked in wine with a handful of parched corn, a 'pottage of bread broken into a bowl', or bread and grilled ﬁsh (John 21:9, 13).
Supper, or the evening meal, was the main meal of the day. It included a heavier meal eaten after working when the weather was cooler and people could eat in a more relaxed atmosphere (Ruth 3:2-7; Luke 17:7-8). The evening meal consisted of meat, vegetables, butter, and wine.
There are many special meals in the Bible. Special means were held at times of rejoicing such as at the end of harvest season or sheep-shearing (2 Samuel 13:23). Other good examples include the followings:
- The feast that was given when the prodigal son returned home (Luke 15:22-32).
- The wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11).
- Birthdays (Genesis 40:20; Mark 6:21-23).
- Entertaining guests (Matthew 9:10-13).
There are a lot of feasts and banquets in the Bible more than everyday and family meals. Feasts and banquets were to celebrate joyous events.
ln Old Testament, there were no kitchens. Food was cooked outside in the open in front of the tent.
Eating utensils did not exist in the Bible. Bread served the purposes of a spoon and sometimes as a plate. Food was served in a common bowl and eaten with the hands (Proverbs 26:15; Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:20) or with bread dipped in the dish (John 13:26).
Bread was used to sop soup or broth which was sat in the middle of the table for all to reach. Bread was a staple of the Hebrew diet.
Meals were usually eaten outside but even when eaten inside, spectators could come inside and watch the festivities of the rich.
In earlier times, people sat on mats on the grounds. The table was a circular skin or piece of leather place on the floor. Later, they sat on chairs and stools (1 Samuel 20:5; 25). Still later, people reclined to eat on cushions, couches or divans (Amos 6:4; Esther 1:6; John 21:20). Guests leaned on the table with their left elbow and ate with their right hand.
Guests were seated by age or importance (Genesis 43:33; Luke 14:1-14). The place of honor was in the middle of the table where no more than three people sat. nSpecial honor went to the one who sat on the right-hand side of the host and reclined in his bosom.
When Joseph's brothers went to Egypt to get grain, Joseph recognized them before they recognized him. The brothers found it strange that they were placed at the table according to their age (Genesis 43:33). The brothers were seated facing Joseph, arranged in order of their age, from the oldest to the youngest.
Paintings of the Lord's Supper sometimes include Judas reclining in the bosom of Jesus.
Invitations to Eat
In the Bible, two invitations went out to the guests.
- The first invitation was simply to invite the guests.
- The second invitation was to tell the guests the food was ready to be served (Luke 13:15-24).
The host greeted guests with a holy kiss (Luke 7:45) and provided for their dusty feet to be washed (John 13:4-5).
The host poured perfumed oil on the heads of his guests (Luke 7:46).Tdepended on the occasion and the host's wealth.
What the host served depended on the occasion and the wealth of the host.
The host served his guests by dipping the bread in the fat of the meat and offered it to the guests as Jesus did to Judas.
For his guests, the host provided entertainment consisting of music, singing, and dancing. Guests were also entertained with riddles.
Jesus encouraged hosts to include the poor, maimed and blind among the guests (Luke 14:13).
Guests washed their hands at the table in the sight of everyone. Water was passed and everyone saw that hands were washed. The Pharisees criticized Jesus because His disciples ate without washing their hands (Mark 7:3).
Towels were either provided or guests would bring their own to carry away the gifts that were given after the meal.
Clothing was sometimes provided by the host. When the prodigal son returned, his father provided the best robe for him (Luke 15:22).
What It Means When People Eat Together
Eating is more than the consumption of food. People bond over meals. When you eat with someone, it says you are friends and that you share a common bond.
Eating with family and friends multiplies the enjoyment of eating. Even Jesus loved eating with people including sinners and tax collectors.
Business deals are known to be made over a shared meal.
Interesting Things About Eating
- Eating is a sign of rejoicing and celebrating.
- Eating is an opportunity to share not only food but conversations also.
- Fellowship is more special when it is done over a meal.
- Eating is a sign of contentment. Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylon. He told them to build houses, and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produced (Jeremiah 29:5). Eating in this case, was a sign of contentment and peace.