Food and Identity in Pauline Communities

Norms about food--not only its ingredients but also the manner of its preparation and the context of its consumption--served as important markers of the distinction between Jews and gentiles within the Hellenistic world. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Paul and members of his communities use food-related practices to express and debate ideas about what it means to be a believer in Christ. Paul himself uses discourse about food to communicate the message that Jews and Greeks, while different, nevertheless constitute a single Christ-believing community distinct from its Greco-Roman surroundings. Although Paul’s norms regarding food do not depart radically from those of contemporaneous Jewish authorities, the communal identity he forges through these norms is explicitly not Jewish. His conception of Christ-believing identity, moreover, differs significantly not only from the ideas associated with Jesus in the Gospels but also from those that become normative within later Christian communities.