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    Q: #462. What is gluttony? Is gluttony a sin?

By: Steve Shirley

    A: "Gluttony," or being a "glutton," is only mentioned 4 times in the KJV Bible (2 times OT, 2 times NT). The Hebrew word for "glutton" is "zalal, which Strong's defines as "being loose morally, worthless, or prodigal." Zalal is used for "vile, riotous eaters, and riotous" in other places. The Greek word used for "glutton" is "phagos." It is only used 2 times in the New Testament (Mt 11:19)(Lk 7:34), where Jesus mentions that the Pharisees have (wrongly) accused Him of being a glutton. The root word from which phagos comes is phago, meaning "to eat." Phago is used for this 94 times in the New Testament (it is also used 3 times for "meat"). However, most agree that the word "gluttony" we use today has it primary origin in the Latin word "gluttire, which means "to swallow" or "to gulp."

     Obviously, noting the above, the connection with gluttony to food is unmistakable. Given this connection, the following is a good definition for "gluttony." "Gluttony is eating (or drinking) excessively beyond what our bodies actually need to live. This excessive eating often manifests itself as a "craving," which the glutton is unable to overcome." When this pattern is consistent, the "glutton" is generally using this overindulgence to replace what God should be doing in their life (i.e. comfort, stress relief). In addition, it can lead to health issues, depression, isolation, and more.

     There are those who teach that "gluttony" is more than just overeating and drinking. They believe it can pertain to overindulging in anything: i.e. sex, earning money, spending money, pleasure, fitness, etc.... I suppose this is possible, however, given the historic use and original meaning of gluttony in other languages, its primary definition clearly points to overindulgence when eating food.

     When we look at the Bible verses dealing with gluttony, we find that it is associated with laziness, poverty, rebellion, and even idolatry. For example:

(Titus 1:12)(NASB) One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."

(Prov 23:21) For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.

(Deut 21:20) And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

     Several verses connect gluttony with idolatry. A good, short definition of idolatry is "anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God." (Phil 3:18-19) speaks about those "whose God is their belly." (Also see: 1 Cor 10:7) Most gluttons would not consider their gluttony to be idolatry, but as we said above, consider if your overeating is replacing things that God should be filling in your life?

(For more verses related to gluttony, see: Prov 28:7, Prov 25:16, Prov 23:2)

     If you are looking for a good example of gluttony in the Bible, (Num 11:18-34) is perhaps one of the best. In these verses, the Israelites were "craving" meat, and complained about their lack of it. They were unhappy with the manna that God provided. In response to this, God sent a HUGE amount of quail into the camp for them to eat. After they gathered it, and prepared to eat it to satisfy their craving, God in His wrath sent a plague upon them which killed many people. Afterwards, the Israelites called the place where this happened: "Kibroth Hattaavah" meaning "the graves of lust."

     It is also interesting to note that while the primary sin of Sodom was homosexuality (we get our word "sodomy" from Sodom), we are told in (Ezek 16:48-50) that they were also guilty of gluttony.

     Want a few examples of "gluttony" today? Here are three to consider: 1. Check your local buffet, which is pretty much set up to encourage overeating. (Also, take a look at many of the people you see while eating there.). 2. Notice when you are at the drive-thru of a restaurant, and are asked if you want to "super-size" your order. 3. Think Thanksgiving Day.

     Around the 4th century, a man named Evagrius came up with a list of "eight deadly thoughts." Several centuries later, this list was revised by Pope Gregory and called "The Seven Deadly Sins." These were: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Whether or not these are "deadly" sins is up for debate, but they do have a Biblical basis for being sins.

     Let me ask you this: When was the last time you heard a sermon on "gluttony?" As we have shown above, the Bible clearly calls it a sin, so why don't we hear about it? The primary reason is because it is a touchy subject. Approximately 70% of all Americans are overweight, and over one-third are obese (CDC). Unfortunately, much of this is due to gluttony. We hear preaching on the sins of homosexuality, drinking / drunkenness, smoking, lust, etc, but gluttony is often left out. However, since the Bible says it is a sin, and sin can hinder our relationship with the Lord (Isa 59:2)(Ps 66:6)(Jn 9:31)(1 Pet 3:12)(Prov 15:29), isn't this something we need to think about?

     We are told in the Bible to practice self-control (Gal 5:22)(2 Pet 1:5-8)(Titus 2:11-12)(Prov 25:29), and to "take every thought captive" (2 Cor 10:5), and this certainly pertains to the sin of gluttony. For those who have a problem with gluttony, perhaps you should consider doing the opposite of gluttony, and that is to "fast." Fasting is the voluntary decision to set aside food (and sometimes drink) for a period of time to draw closer to God. We should devote this time to fervent prayer and seeking to hear from God. It is also a time for sincere and heartfelt repentance and contrition for sin. Fasting shows our weakness and total dependence on God, and it teaches us self-discipline. Fasting can be a powerful way to seek God.

     In closing, I should add that "gluttony" and being overweight are not always connected. A person can be a glutton and not be overweight. (Some people have metabolisms where they can overeat and just not gain weight.) This being the case, I decided to split my original study in two. This one is on gluttony, and the one to follow will be titled: "Is being overweight / fat a sin?"

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