Dinuguan: Yum-yum, But Wait…
Dinuguan is a stew of meat, pork or chicken blood and innards that most Filipinos savor. The most common ingredients are organ meats or innardsâ€”typically stomach, intestines, ears, and heartâ€”simmered in a thick, spicy, dark gravy of blood, garlic, chili, and vinegar. The term dinuguan comes from the Filipino word for blood, dugo. It is commonly called pork blood stew, blood pudding stew, or even chocolate soup. Although most Filipinos prefer it cooked with innards, dinuguan can also be made without them, and instead using only pork or chicken meat. It is also commonly served with puto, a Filipino dessert made up of steamed rice cake.
Some cults, particularly Iglesia ni Cristo and Jehovah’s Witnesses, consider eating dinuguan unlawful, the latter of course even prohibiting blood transfusions. They cite Old Testament references to the sanctity of life as symbolized by blood, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen 9:4; cf Deut 12:23-24). They also cite a familiar New Testament text, when the Jerusalem Council issued an edict, saying, “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29).
So is it lawful or unlawful for Filipino Christians to eat dinuguan? I personally abstain from it for health reasons. I knowâ€”and many other Filipinos know thisâ€”that blood and other animal innards are not healthy food. For one, they’re high in uric acid, which would cause painful gout or arthritis. And who knows what kind of unhealthy stuff is in the blood, liver, etc.?
Am I saying then that it is unlawful for Christians to eat dinuguan? To be sure, the Old and New Testament texts cited above are strong grounds for refusing to eat dinuguan. But as in all other questions about what the Bible allows or prohibits, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture, and not let our sinful minds take over our views or decisions. If Scripture does not explicitly address the issue, we are to deduce “by good and necessary consequence” using the “light of nature,” Christian prudence, and “the general rules of the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith I:6).
The Jews do not eat non-kosher food because the Old Testament has dietary laws forbidding them to eat “unclean” food, lest they also become defiled (Lev 11:1-47). But Jesus knew that this outward ceremonial purification is only a sign of an inward purity. The purpose of the clean/unclean distinction is to illustrate to the Jews the reality of a barrier to true fellowship with a holy God because of sin.
Jesus told the Jews that it is not what is external to a person, e.g., food, that defiles him, but what is internal, in the heart, which is all kinds of sinful thoughts. Through the atoning death of Christ for the sins of his people (see Heb. 8:13; 9:10, 14), this barrier to true fellowship with God was broken, and now believers have internal purification by the washing of regenerationâ€”of the heart, not because of clean foodâ€”and not mere externalism. The purpose of the ceremonial laws has been completed; the categories of “clean” and “unclean” foods, and people obviously, no longer exist. Mark thereafter deduces from Jesus’ words, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
But it took the Jewish disciples many years to understand what Jesus taught, so he had to appear to Peter in a vision. Peter was so perplexed that Jesus was commanding him to eat “unclean” food, but the Lord allayed his concerns, saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:14-15). Nothing about clean/unclean food, special sacrifices, festivals, special days, and circumcision must interfere with fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. This is why in Galatians 2, Paul rebuked Peter, seeing that Peter separated himself from table fellowship with Gentile Christians because the Gentiles did not observe the Jews’ clean/unclean food distinction. Paul wrote on this controversy extensively, pointing out thatÂ “nothing is unclean in itself … Everything is indeed clean” (Rom 14:14, 20). He condemns “deceiving spirits” and “demons” who mislead believers by forbidding marriage and some food, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:3-5). Indeed, Paul is alluding back to the perfect goodness of God’s creation.
Why then would the Jerusalem Council prohibit the eating of blood, among three other unlawful things? Initially, the council was convened to settle the issue of requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow other Jewish ceremonials laws to be accepted as members of the church. Peter first defended Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, and questioned the Judaizers who placed the heavy yoke of the Mosaic Law on the disciples. James also affirmed Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, and proposed a wise solution: Gentile Christians will not be troubled by Jewish ceremonial laws, but the Gentiles must abstain from the four things listed above. In this way, they would not unnecessarily offend Jews at the table of fellowship, since there are many Jews in the church “in every city.”
The first three prohibitions concern food eaten at the table. Why then is sexual immorality included in this list of prohibitions, when all the others in the list pertain to table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles? It may be that Gentiles in the first-century Graeco-Roman world did not hold to a high moral standard. But a more profound reason is that all these four forbidden practices are normally part of Gentile pagan worship, which include superstitious beliefs in magic and gaining health, stamina, sexual prowess, fertility, etc. Temple prostitutes are usually included in their pagan worship, and is part of Israel’s idolatrous history (1 Cor 10:7-8). As well, God often referred to idolatry as spiritual adultery (e.g., Isa 57:7-8; Hos 4:12; Col 3:5; I Pet 4:3).
There is therefore no direct application of these prohibitions stated by the Jerusalem Council to the eating of dinuguan. This food is not connected in any way to pagan worship. However, in some drinking circles, particularly among Ilocano men, another delicacy called papaitan, (from pait, which means “bitter”)Â a bitter stew of innards and spices boiled in bitter bile,Â is superstitiously believed to be an aphrodisiac. If there is any pagan superstition involved in eating some kinds of food, then it is better to abstain.
However, there are some Christians who do not have this knowledge, and believe that dinuguan is forbidden in Scripture. If there’s nothing inherently evil in dinuguan, then does one have freedom to eat it in all situations? Here is where Paul’s doctrine of Christian liberty comes in. Although Paul believes nothing is unclean in itself, it could be “unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Rom 14:14). The rule here is that things done in public that will offend a brother or sister and make him/her stumble are better not done,Â “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Rom 14:15). The strong and those who have knowledge should not flaunt their liberty to cause those whose consciences are weak to stumble in their Christian walk.