Exegesis or Eisegesis
On Weight Loss and Theology, part 2
This is part 2 of “On Weight Loss and Theology”. In part one I discussed the fact the Bible does not directly deal with the concept of weight loss. Such a category wasn’t actually conceived by the biblical writers considering obesity was probably not a problem suffered by many people in the ancient near east. In this article we discuss “biblical diets”.
I have always found the concept of a “biblical diet” for weight loss to be anachronistic. Leave it to 20th and 21st century people to try to force the Bible to provide a way for us to lose weight! It seems that each year more diets are being published as “biblically based”. It’s a great marketing ploy, but one has to wonder about the theological training and scholastic rigor brought to the research and writing of such materials.
One “biblical diet” came about when someone watched a thin friend eat. Basing most of the approach on observation of a few thin people, the writer came up with a diet plan and then went about finding scripture to conform to her already pre-determined conclusion. Admittedly if you did that with a college paper and your professor found out about it, she would laugh in your face right before marking a big red “F” on your cover page. (Unfortunately, that’s been the way preachers in some traditions have prepared sermons for years).
It doesn’t do to start off assuming one’s conclusion is established fact and forcing the evidence to conform with it. That’s called begging the question[i] or circular reasoning.
According to the author, this diet was obviously God’s design. Forget the fact that nowhere in the Bible is there a suggestion on how people should lose weight, or even if they should (that, too is an a priori position).
Eventually this diet was promoted as the only biblical way to live. Eat when you’re hungry, only eat enough to satisfy the immediate hunger, never weigh, and don’t worry about exercise or supplements. In fact, you shouldn’t weigh, exercise, or take supplements because that is idolatry. Obsessing about measuring your weight on a scale was bad. Frankly, I’m not certain what is the practical difference between obsessing over the markings of a scale or obsessing over what your stomach is saying. If I wanted to use the same logic I could suggest how one shouldn’t make one’s stomach a god.
Before I go on, I have to address one of the obvious fallacies here. As mentioned in part 1, most people were physically active in the ancient near east. They walked everywhere, they farmed, they hunted, they carried heavy loads. If one wants to point to a biblical way to lose weight, I’d say physical activity has the better claim (unless you want to suggest the dietary guidelines of the Israelites, which frankly won’t necessarily make you lose weight–especially during festivals where the people were told to eat and drink to their hearts’ delight).
Then there is the Daniel Diet which is very loosely based on the first chapter of Daniel.[ii] At the end of the trial period of eating just vegetables and drinking only water Daniel and his friends looked healthier (NASV says “better fed”) than the other servants of Nebuchadnezzar. Does that mean they weighed less or more? That is open for interpretation.
This leads one to ask, Why did Daniel not want to eat the king’s food? Because it was less healthy and might make him gain unwanted pounds? No, but because it was pagan and likely un-kosher. Meat most likely was from animals sacrificed to idols — a problem for the Jewish laws regarding defilement. Daniel did not wish to be defiled so he opted for a vegetarian diet which avoided un-kosher meat or any meat sacrificed to idols. And was the resultant benefits of better health something that naturally occurred, or did God, tip the scales as it were?
Of course, these are just a couple of plans. I am certain there are many more claiming some basis in the Bible.
The problem with such plans is that these will always involve eisegesis (reading into the text something that is not there). Quite simply, the text does not address our 21st century obsession with weight loss. That was not at issue. One should never force the text to say something it never intended to say.
So, what to do?
We do want to care for our bodies. After all, the Bible does suggest we should be good stewards of what God has given us. We assume God does want us to care for our bodies and treat them as if they will be resurrected. That isn’t a bad assumption. And we do want to enjoy what God has given.
While we won’t live forever (at least not until the Resurrection) we do want to live well enough to serve God and others. We don’t want to aid death in the process, right?
In part three I’ll discuss some of my discoveries regarding weight loss. They aren’t magical, biblical (nor are they anti-biblical), or even particularly earth shattering. In fact, they may be disappointing. Unfortunately, there is no easy, “spiritual”, or effortless way to maintain a healthy body weight.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself…
[i] Another pet peeve of mine — begging the question does not mean “leading to the question” or “causing one to wonder”. It means circular reasoning. But, alas, I’m fighting a loosing battle, I know.
[ii] To be fair, the Daniel Diet claims it is loosely based on Daniel 1. The author also consults with nutritionists and professionals in creating this diet. To my knowledge there is no claim that this is the only way to lose weight. Warren at least tries to be nutritionally and medically responsible with his advice.
To support the poet’s benign coffee addiction: Coffee.