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.  

God's  Food

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 MEATS

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).

Ceremonially Unclean

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).

Holiness

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.

Time Element

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 founding—the 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

MAMMALS

Clean Mammals

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.

Unclean Mammals

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.

FISH

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.

Clean Fish

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.

Unclean Fish

A few examples of unclean fish are catfish, eel, shark, sturgeon, and tuna.

BIRDS

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.

Clean Birds

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.

Unclean Birds

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.

AMPHIBIANS

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.

REPTILES

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.

INSECTS

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.

Compiled by Charles E. Barrett, file b4w10