Fortune cookies are crispy, U-shaped cookies folded around a printed piece of paper containing a proverb, fortune, or other statement. Fortune cookies are offered with the bill in most Chinese restaurants or otherwise available at the end of the meal. The diner must crack open the fortune cookie to retrieve the statement, which is usually a prosaic saying or random prediction, such as “You will encounter success today,” “The one you love is closer than you think,” or “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Many fortune cookies also contain “lucky numbers.” Since reading a fortune implies special prophetic knowledge, some Christians wonder whether it is wrong to read fortune cookies.
Ironically, fortune cookies are not Chinese. No one is sure exactly where the fortune cookie originated. Some claim fortune cookies were invented by David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Factory in Los Angeles, California, in 1918. Interestingly, the fortune cookies Jung passed out contained Bible verses. Other reports trace the fortune cookie to Japan. For Christians, the real question is whether reading the proverb in the fortune cookie is in some way participating in divination or witchcraft, similar to consulting a horoscope.
One major difference between fortune cookies and horoscopes is that fortune cookies are never presented as serious prophecies. They are handed out at random and can in no way have any connection to the person who opens them. Horoscopes, on the other hand, are presented as serious astrology and are supposedly connected to the person’s birth date and certain planetary alignments. This type of fortune-telling is strictly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10–15). In fact, when Paul preached the gospel in Ephesus, many who had previously engaged in astrology and divination responded positively to his message. “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly” (Acts 19:19). They knew instinctively that the gospel of Jesus Christ could not coexist with magic arts, astrology, or divination of any kind.
Fortune cookies are simply traditional desserts offered in most Chinese restaurants as part of the dining experience. They are never presented as authentic fortune-telling devices. If eating and reading a fortune cookie does not carry any spiritual overtones for a person, then Christians are free to enjoy them. However, Romans 14 gives wisdom about matters of conscience such as this. If a Christian’s conscience condemns him when he opens a fortune cookie, then he should abstain. Or, if we are dining with Christians who are offended by the idea of fortune cookies, we should also defer to their weaker consciences. Romans 14:22–23 summarizes the New Testament teaching on activities not directly addressed in Scripture: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”