GOD'S LAW CONCERNING THE EATING OF CLEAN AND UNCLEAN CREATURES
Should we continue to obey the law about clean and unclean meats that are found in Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11? This study will show that God expects us to observe these laws, because they are a part of his overall plan for mankind. Additionally, this study will show that these laws of God are both physical and spiritual laws, that were given to benefit people physically and spiritually.
In order to begin to understand the importance of the law concerning the kinds of meat that are fit for human consumption, we need to look at the kinds of animals that God allowed to be offered to him as sacrificial food.
A careful study of the Book of Leviticus reveals that part of the sacrificial system required that people offer God certain sacrifices that were considered to be his food, which he consumed with fire and shared with the priests and the offerer.
In Leviticus 1:3, God speaks to Moses out of the tabernacle and instructs him to tell the children of Israel the law of the offerings (Lev. chps. 1-7). The very first offering mentioned here is the burnt offering:
"If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord" (Lev.1:3 Para.).
Leviticus 1:9 says that all of this sacrifice was to be burnt: "He is to wash the inner parts and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord." None of this particular sacrifice was to be eaten by anyone else. It was to be a sweet-smelling savor to the Creator God.
God enjoyed receiving the burnt offering from his people; the sweet smell of this food was pleasing and satisfying to him.
Unfit Food For God
"You offer polluted bread on my altar; and you say, How have we polluted you? In that you say, The table of the Lord is contemptible" (Mal.1:7 Para.). The Israelites were offering worthless contemptible food on God's altar (his table): "But you have profaned it, in that you say, The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible" (Mal.1:12 KJV).
These two scriptures show that the altar of the Lord was the Lord's table, and the food placed on it had to be the type of food that God was willing to consume. Whatever was put on the altar (the table of the Lord) was the food of God, and the fire from heaven consumed the offering and it ascended to God as a sweet smell.
The following kinds of animals were offered as burnt offerings (God's food) and were consumed by God at his table:
Only animals that are considered to be clean in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 were used in the burnt offering. No unclean animals were to be offered to God by the priests as his food. Moreover, God instructs those who want to obey him to eat only those foods that he himself would partake of (Lev.1:1-40).
"You must not eat of any of the small animals that move on the ground, whether they crawl, or walk on all four legs, or have many legs. Do not make yourselves unclean by eating any of these. I am the Lord your God, and you must keep yourselves holy; because I am holy. I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt so that I could be your God. You must be holy, because I am holy. This, then, is the law about animals and birds, about everything that lives in the water, and everything that moves on the ground. You must be careful to distinguish between what is clean and unclean, between animals that may be eaten and those that may not" (Lev.11:41-47 GNB).
Verse 44 shows that one way to be holy in God's eyes is to eat only clean animals; he says you must "be holy, as I am holy."
The Covenant of the Rainbow
One other proof that God only partakes of clean animals is found in Genesis 8:
"And Noah built an altar to the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet smell; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of a man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again kill all living things, as I have done" (Gen.8:20-21 Para.).
After Noah's sacrifice of clean beasts and fowl, God smelled the sweet smell and made the covenant of the rainbow.
These scriptures show that Noah had the knowledge of what was clean and what was not clean as far as God's food was concerned. So, he must have known what he was able to eat that would keep him holy in God's eyes.
Clean or UncleanCDoes it Matter?
Today, the elect of God are temples of God on earth. Because of this, the law of clean and unclean meats still applies today.
God's Temple on Earth
"Don't you know that your body is the temple of the holy spirit that is in you, which God has given you, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which belong to God's" (1.Cor.6:19-20 Para.).
God's children are the temple of the living God. His most holy place is now in his elect children. Therefore, we should keep our bodies pure, both spiritually and physically, just as he instructed the Israelites to keep his temple and his holy place undefiled while he was dwelling in the Holy of Holies. No unclean thing was to be placed on God's altars or tables.
"Don't you know that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, God shall destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1.Cor.3:16-17 Para.).
How could one defile the Temple of God? One historical example is when Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the Temple by offering swine's flesh on God's altar/table (167 B.C., 1 Macabees 1:61). If pork or any other unclean meat could defile God's temple in Israel, it will also defile his temple today. And we are God's temple today!
THE PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL LAW OF CLEAN AND UNCLEAN MEATSBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Top | Back to Chapter Index
The books of the Bible that were written by Moses contain a set of laws pertaining to which animals are fit for God's people to eat. But what was the purpose of this law and why is it necessary to obey it today?
"And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parts the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that shall you eat. Nevertheless these shall you not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he chews the cud, but divides not the hoof; he is unclean to you. And the coney, because he chews the cud, but divides not the hoof; he is unclean to you. And the hare, because he chews the cud, but divides not the hoof; he is unclean to you. And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he chews not the cud; he is unclean to you " (Lev.11:1-7 KJV).
It has been argued by some that the Hebrew word 'tameh' (unclean) actually denotes the state of being 'ceremonially unclean'; therefore, they believe that dietary laws were for the ceremonial purposes of ancient Israelite only, not for Christians today.
But is this teaching true? Does 'tameh' mean 'ceremonially unclean'? The answer can be found in the Bible. By using the Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, all the places in the Bible where this Hebrew word 'tameh' is used can be found. Where this word is used, it is not always translated 'unclean'; it is sometimes translated 'defiled'. There are at least two scriptures, Leviticus 18:23 and Ezekiel 22:11, which prove that 'tameh' does not always mean 'ceremonially unclean.'
"Neither shall you lie with any beast to 'defile' (tameh) yourself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion" (Lev.18:23 KJV).
"And one has committed an abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another has lewdly 'defiled' (tameh) his daughter in law; and another of you has humbled his sister, his father's daughter" (Ezk.22:11 Para.).
Do such abominations only make the sinner 'ceremonially unclean'? Obviously the word 'tameh' is not limited to the definition: 'ceremonially or ritually unclean'. It is also used to denote the state of being 'defiled' or 'unclean.'
In ancient Israel it was possible to become 'ritually unclean' by touching something unclean. This uncleanness prohibited the Israelites from involvement in various religious practices that were otherwise required (Num.9:6-11). Keeping oneself undefiled was not an arbitrary or an unreasonable demand of God. One major purpose was to continually remind the Israelites of the purity of God and the need for humans to be pure.
You Shall Be Holy
God says, "You shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev.19:2). Does this imply holiness for ceremonial purposes only? The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament states:
"Whatever theories are adduced to explain the laws of uncleanness, the scriptures themselves emphatically associate them with the holiness of God. The so-called Law of Purity (Lev.11-16) was placed side by side with the Law of Holiness (Lev.17-26). In the passage which lists unclean foods, the holiness of Yahweh is emphasized as the reason for avoiding unclean foods. The regulations regarding uncleanness set Israel apart from other nations. These were object lessons of God's holiness which could not co-exist with the uncleanness of Sin" (Vol. 1, page 35, article 'tameh', number 809).
In The Jewish Religion, Friedlander states, "We must take care that we do not consider these precepts exclusively as sanitary regulations, however important such regulations may be. We must not lose sight of the fact that Holiness is the only object of the Dietary Laws mentioned in the Pentateuch" (page 456).
One reason for giving the laws of clean and unclean meats was 'holiness.' But what is holiness? God is holy and he commands his people to be holy and undefiled (1.Pet.1:19). In order for a person to become a pure and undefiled son of God a person must be washed with the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ (Rev.1:5). But, his sacrifice does not give us license to defile ourselves (Rom.3:31; 6:2,15). It is easy to understand that when you are defiled, you are unholy. And unholiness is the same as unrighteousness and all unrighteousness is sin (1.Jn.5:17). Moreover, sin that is not repented of and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ leads to eternal death in the Lake of Fire.
Physical Promises to Israel
Is holiness the only object of these laws? Israel was not a spiritual nation. Israel was a physical nation with physical laws to make it physically clean and physically holy to fulfill physical promises. This was not ceremony. There were no promises to ancient Israel in ceremony; the promises were for obedience. These promises were physical, and breaking physical laws reaps physical punishments (Deut. Chps.11; 28).
It is not necessary for God to explain in exact detail the reason for every law that he has caused to come into existence. We are not told that lepers were separated from other people so that the disease wouldn't spread to others, yet when this law (Lev.13:46) was broken in the Middle Ages, leprosy became rampant and was not brought under control until the Catholic Church enforced this Biblical law and separated those affected by the disease. We do not have to understand every detail of a law before we obey, because knowledge and understanding come with faith and obedience.
Science, Not Ceremony
After centuries of obedience through faith, it is now possible to scientifically show that certain animals are not fit for human consumption. Research by Dr. Carey Reams shows that consumption of unclean meat is harmful to our health. Dr. Reams explains that eating unclean meat is like putting hi-test airplane fuel in your automobile engine; it may run for a while, but the fuel will ruin your engine. (Health Guide for Survival, by Salem Kirban, pages 46-50).
Physical Curses for Disobedience
Many of these unclean animals carry diseases that adversely affect the human body. Trichinosis is a commonly known parasitic disease of pigs which is passed on to humans who consume the infested animals. This is just an example of a negative physical result for disobeying God's law. Physical curses were promised to ancient Israel for disobedience to the laws that God gave to them:
"The Lord shall smite you with a consumption, and a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning . . ..The Lord shall smite you with the botch [elephantiasis] of Egypt, and with the emerods [hemorrhoids], and with the scab [psoriasis], and with the itch, whereof you cannot be healed [prurigo]. The Lord shall smite you with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart:. . . The Lord shall smite you in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore botch that cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the top of your head" (Deut.28:22, 27-28, 35 KJV).
Modern man commonly disobeys God's health laws, but is there a connection between this disobedience and diseases that are becoming more and more recognized as related to our diet? Some forms of mental disorders such as hyperactivity in children and even some criminal tendencies can be traced to nutritional problems.
When God pronounced these curses upon man, it was because he had already built into man what the results of this disobedience would be. He does not need to intervene; human beings defile their own bodies with the meat of unclean animals and reap the penalties.
Many of the laws considered 'ritual' can be found in the same book and chapters of the Bible as those laws that are not 'ritual'. One way to distinguish the difference between ritual laws and other laws is that the ritual laws usually mention a time period of uncleanness.
The laws that concern ritual or ceremonial defilement always specify a time limit for the purification of the defilement. This is an important distinction between physical and spiritual defilement that must be recognized in order to keep from being led astray by those who misapply scriptural understanding or those who do not wish to obey the commandments of God.
A close reading of the law of clean and unclean meat in Leviticus chapter 11 will not show a time element associated with this law. These animals are simply unclean and they should never be eaten by humans.
ARE THE DIETARY LAWS FOR JEWS ONLY?
Why should a Christian care about the law of clean and unclean meats when this law was given to the ancient Israelites?
The law that shows which meats are fit or unfit for human consumption were given as a guide for the health of all mankind. Moreover, even Noah, the ancestor of all of mankind, was aware of the distinction between clean and unclean animals (Gen.7:1-5). But centuries later, after these laws had been violated by almost everyone, they were reestablished by God with the nation that he was foundingthe nation of the children of Israel:
"And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts (animals) which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth" (Lev.11:1-2).
Who are the children of Israel? The identity of Israel is greatly misunderstood today. To most ministers and priests, the words 'Israel' and 'Jew' are synonymous. However, these two terms are not synonymous.
Genesis chapter 12 contains the ancestry of the tribes of Israel, which states that God chose Abraham who had a son Isaac and a grandson Jacob whose name was changed by God to Israel. Israel had twelve sons whose descendants became the tribes of Israel. Only one of these tribes was called Judah, which is where the word 'Jew' comes from. Israel's other eleven sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Most of these other eleven brothers became large tribes and eventually became nations.
Around 721 B.C., the majority of these tribes were carried away into captivity by Assyria and they never returned to the area called Palestine; thus, they became known as the 'Lost Tribes of Israel' because they lost their identifying traits.
But wherever the descendants of Israel are today, whether they are descendants of the Jews or the 'Lost Tribes of Israel', their ancestors were the ones to whom the Dietary Laws of Leviticus 11 were given.
The Jews are often called "God's Chosen People," and one reason for this is that a large number of them have not forgotten God's weekly Sabbath or his annual festivals. Moreover, many of them have continued to observe God's dietary laws that were meant for all of Israel and all of mankind.
The Jews and the Law
Modern practitioners of Judisim follow the laws of Leviticus chapter 11 and their own historical dietary traditions, which are recorded in the Talmud (writings that are more important to them than the Old Testament). The Talmud and other Jewish publications have many do's and don'ts about meat and other foods and their preparation that are not a part of Leviticus chapter 11.
One day, some Jews came to Jesus Christ and found fault with his disciples, because they had eaten bread without first washing their hands in accordance with the tradition of the spiritual leaders of the Jews (Mk.7:1-5).
Jesus answered them by calling them "hypocrites" and stating, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mk.7:6-7).
Although the Jews observed the dietary laws, they managed to pervert them with their own teachings and traditions.
But, Leviticus chapter 11 is from God to all of Israel (and by extension to all of mankind) and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Talmud and Jewish man-made doctrines. Moreover, all mankind should be careful to observe God's law without adding to or diminishing from his wisdom.
DOES GOD CARE ABOUT FOOD?
What does obeying the law of clean and unclean meats have to do with salvation? Does the Sovereign God of all that exists really care what we eat? Will you lose your salvation if you eat unclean meats?
God is not waiting around to strike you down with trichinosis or to deny you salvation if you eat a ham sandwich. God has given you the right to make your own decisions. However, he does look at the attitude of each of his children in everything that they do. There is a difference between a person who eats unclean meat in ignorance and a person who does it in willful disobedience toward God. A person can repent and ask forgiveness for acts of ignorance and lack of character. However, if a person persists in willful disobedience against God in any way, that person is in jeopardy of losing their salvation (Heb.10:26).
The prophet Isaiah clearly shows that the end result of violating the law of clean and unclean meats is eternal death:
"I have spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, which walks in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; A people that to my face continually provoke me to anger, sacrificing in gardens, and burning incense upon alters of brick; which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things in the their vessels. Which say, stand by yourself, come not near me; for I am holier than you. These are smoke in my nose, and a fire that burns all day" (Isa.65:2-5 Para.).
It is important to note that although many of the prophecies of Isaiah were a condemnation of ancient Israel at that time, they also have contemporary implications. Moreover, many will be fulfilled before, during, and after the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth. Isaiah clearly records the end result of violating the system of worship and the laws of physical and spiritual purity that God gave to his people:
"For with fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many. They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, says the Lord" (Isa.66:16-17 KJV).
Clearly, God says that he will destroy all who will not come into conformity with his righteous law. And in the Book of Revelation, John reveals that nothing impure and nothing that is considered an abomination by God will enter into his holy city:
"And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev.21:27 KJV).
God does care if his people consume unclean meats. Furthermore, if any of his chosen people rebelliously violate the law of clean and unclean meats, they will not be able to enter his holy city or have eternal life.
God would not keep us from doing something that is in our best interest to do. If we can draw closer to God's perfection by not eating the things that he commanded us not to eat, our faith relationship with him and his son will be increased and strengthened. Moreover, anything that increases our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ is a priority to them and should be a priority to anyone who is seeking eternal life.
CLEAN AND UNCLEAN CREATURES BASED ON LEVITICUS 11 AND DEUTERONOMY 14
The predominant characteristics of clean mammals are the following: They give birth to live offspring, suckle their young, breathe through lungs, have hair on the skin, have constant body temperature, and have a four-chambered heart. Mammals that chew the cud and have a split in their hooves are fit for human consumption. These animals are herbivores with a stomach that has four compartments and they have hollow or solid horns.
A few examples of clean mammals are cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, gazelle, antelope, and oxen.
The predominant characteristics of unclean mammals are as follows:
A few examples of unclean mammals are the ape, bat, bear, camel, dog, donkey, elephant, fox, hyena, hippo, horse, jackal, leopard, lion, llama, rabbit, pig, mule, mouse, whale, and zebra.
Although there are many kinds of animals that live in water; the law of clean and unclean meats dictates that the only animals that are fit for human consumption that live exclusively in water are fish.
The predominant characteristics of clean fish are as follows: vertebrates that live in water and breath through gills, have both fins and scales, and reproduce either by laying eggs or giving birth to live offspring.
The only fish that are fit for human consumption must have both fins and scales (Lev.11:9; Deut.14:9). In this category, only fish with bony skeletons are included because they alone possess fins and scales. The scales must overlap one another and be of bony origin and not a growth of the skin and they must be visible to the eye.
A few examples of clean fish are carp, bass, sardine, herring, perch, salmon, and trout.
A few examples of unclean fish are catfish, eel, shark, sturgeon, and tuna.
The predominant characteristics of clean birds are as follows: bodies covered with feathers, upper limbs are wing-shaped, no teeth, breathe through lungs, constant body temperature, four-chambered heart, lay eggs.
There are five predominant characteristics of clean birds:
A few examples of clean birds are chickens, ducks, geese, house sparrows, most song birds, partridges, peacocks, pheasants, pigeons, and quail.
There are four predominant characteristics of unclean birds:
A few examples of unclean birds are buzzards, crows, eagles, hawk, kites, swifts, ostriches, owls, and vultures.
The predominant characteristics of amphibians are as follows: vertebrates born in water, living in water, on land, or both. During early stages (larva-tadpole), they breathe with gills, and in the adult stage they breath with lungs or gills. Body temperature changes in accordance with medium in which they live.
No amphibian is fit for human consumption.
The predominant characteristics of reptiles are as follows: creeping and crawling things that have short legs or none at all, live mostly on dry land, have lungs, the majority of them lay eggs with a soft shell in which the white and the yolk are mixed. They are cold blooded (temperature adjusts to the environment), and their skin is covered with scales.
No reptile is fit for human consumption.
Only a few of the millions of species of insects are fit for human consumption:
"These may you eat of every flying creeping thing that goes upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; Even those may you eat, the locust after its kind. . ." (Lev.11:21-22).
A few examples of clean insects are locusts, grasshoppers, and crickets.