Bread in the Bible

Recently, I read this article from Wellness Mama about whether the Bible says we should eat grains, since she claims that we should “ditch the grains” for a healthy diet. Does the Bible Say We Should Eat Grains?

I respect Wellness Mama and love her website. It is full of useful content and solid knowledge. However, I must respectfully disagree with her take on grains in the Bible. I don’t claim to be a Biblical scholar, and Wellness Mama knows much more than I do about nutrition, since she is a certified Nutritional Consultant, and I am still a junk food junkie who only aspires to a  healthier diet. As a matter of fact, as I will explain later, I think that “ditch[ing] the grains” is a good idea for health. I agree with Wellness Mama about the idea that we should not use the Bible to justify our lousy eating habits. I also agree that the grains of Biblical times were not the same as the grains we have today, nor were they prepared in the same way . However, she says that our current paradigm sees bread as more important in the Bible than it may have been, and that grains may have been eaten mostly in times of hardship. I disagree with these premises, and I will attempt to explain why:

  1. Wellness Mama says that our First Parents didn’t eat grains before the Fall. The way I Genesis 1 does not support this idea, although it may be so. Verse 29 says “God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;” (emphasis mine) Are not grains seed-bearing plants? It does not say what kind of seed-bearing plants are in the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to choose from, though it does say that there were fruit trees.
  2. Leviticus 2 details the requirements for a cereal offering. For an offering to truly be a sacrifice, it must be from something important. If grains were not so important to the Hebrews, I don’t believe that God would have accepted a cereal offering.
  3. The Psalmist says in Psalm 42 (“As the deer…”) “My tears have become my bread.” The Hebrew word for bread in this verse is “lechem” which is translated as food or meat in some translations, but which in actuality means bread. Witness the meaning of the place-name Bethlehem: House of Bread, which would become the home of the Bread of Life. Logically, if the Psalmist is crying “day and night” as the Psalm says, that’s a lot of tears! Equating a lot of tears being “my bread” would indicate that people in the culture of the place and time ate a large amount of bread. Psalm 80 also compares tears with bread.
  4. In another vein, Psalm 102 says “I eat ashes like bread.” While this may be a simple comparison, it may also refer to bread because of its basic nature in the Psalmist’s diet.
  5. In the books of Ezekiel and Sirach, bread is compared to a staff. A staff is indispensable in any long journey taken on foot. The majority of the people in Biblical times would have traveled on foot. They may have walked long distances to buy food or to trade, to seek water, or to reach the Promised Land (as in Exodus). In the New Testament, Jesus sends his
    followers out to spread the Good News, and tells them not to take anything for their journey but a walking stick.
  6. In the same chapter of Ezekiel that Wellness Mama mentions in her rationale that grains would have been eaten in times of hardship, God tells Ezekiel that he will break the “staff of bread” in Jerusalem, in essence causing a famine. How will the people react to this? In verse 17, He tells Ezekiel that “owing to the scarcity of bread and water, everyone shall be filled with terror and waste away because of his sins” (New American Bible). If the scarcity of bread would cause terror, it is hard to believe that bread wasn’t a large part of the Biblical diet.
  7. A commenter to Wellness Mama’s blog pointed to Daniel, chapter 1, presumably in order to support the idea of eating vegetables rather than meat and grains. We must remember that Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael chose
    to eat vegetables because of Jewish law. They would not defile themselves by eating the rich food of the pagan royalty. Their vegetable fast did prove them to be healthier than their counterparts, but it was not done simply for their
    health, but to show that in retaining their covenant with the Lord they remained healthy and happy.
  8. In the Feeding of the Five Thousand, one of the few stories of Our Lord which appears in all four Gospels, all the food that is available is five loaves of bread (which some accounts say was of barley) and two fish. According to “modern” sensibilities, this is a disproportionate amount of bread. After all, in mainstream modern eating, bread is often seen as
    something of a side dish. Not so in the case of someone who would carry more than twice as much bread as meat. Although I am not a nutritional anthropologist, I can assume that they would have more bread because it was the staple of their diet. However, I concede I may be wrong in this regard, because I have no idea what size the loaves or fish would have been, although in some accounts, the fish are called small.
  9. Speaking of staples, let me venture away from Biblical references for a moment and discuss the food ways of so-called primitive societies. In those societies which even in the twenty-first century eat like their ancestors ate, many people find a majority of their sustenance in a grain or grain-like food. Many of the peoples of Asia eat a large amount of rice. The
    people of Central America eat tortillas and other foods made from corn. In fact, many cultures have a similar flatbread which may or may not be a staple of their diet (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatbread for a list). Do I know if these peoples ate this way 2000 or 4000 years ago? Of course not, but I can surmise that they did.
  10. If bread were not so important in his listeners’ diet, why would Our Lord tell them that He was the Bread of Life in John chapter 6? If bread was not an important staple in their diet, it seems to me that he would have used another analogy, something that was more important to them. He wanted to tell them, and us, that He was, and is, the most important Staple in our lives. He is not a vegetable, meat, or dessert – He is the most basic thing we need.

So, while I defer to Wellness Mama’s education, wisdom, and experience about nutrition, I don’t think that we can ever discount the importance of bread in Biblical society.

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3 thoughts on “Bread in the Bible

  1. I have to agree with your points, and the study of history and archaeology has confirmed the importance of bread to all ancient peoples. Good post!

  2. We are going grain free for health reasons, but I struggle w/ the importance of grain in the Bible. I read wellmama’s post and your rebuttal which makes more sense. Jesus DOES command us to eat bread when He says “unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.” For us Catholics, that’s the Eucharist. What are your thoughts on that if grains really are as evil as science seems to pointing out?

    Thanks

    • Anne,
      I still don’t doubt that Katie at WellnessMama knows better than I do about nutrition. Afterall, she is a certified nutritional consultant, whereas I have degrees in elementary education and library science. However, since I wrote this post, I have cut back on grains too, though nowhere near cutting them out completely. I have also begun attending daily Mass more frequently, so obviously, my thoughts about grains will not keep me from the Blessed Sacrament. I think that in our culture, we eat too much wheat (but we also eat too much of just about everything). I don’t think geains are evil, but I do see a real need for moderation or temperance.
      JG

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