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Does The New Testament Abolish


Does the New Testament Abolish Meat Distinctions?

Some people believe that certain New Testament scriptures remove all distinctions between clean and unclean meats. But what do these passages really say?

by David Treybig

Most theologians assume that God's laws regarding clean and unclean meats ended at Christ's crucifixion. They suppose that the New Covenant removes any need for Christians to keep such laws. But is that what the Bible really says?

The administrative change from the Levitical priesthood to the ministry of Jesus Christ did not void God's expectations that His people obey His law of clean and unclean meats (or any other law) as part of their sanctification or separation as people of God (see Leviticus 11:44-47; 19:2; 20:7, 22-26; 21:8). Peter and Paul both spoke of the continuing need for God's people to be holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:14-16).

Scholars acknowledge that members of the early Church continued to observe the distinctions between clean and unclean meats. Because of the common misconception that the New Covenant abolishes much of God's law, many assume these food requirements were simply Jewish cultural practices that continued until the Church became more gentile in composition and outlook. Preconceived ideas have also influenced interpretations of many New Testament passages. This is known as the process of eisegesis, or reading one's own ideas into Scripture.

Let's examine the New Testament passages dealing with food. As we do so, let's practice exegesis: drawing meaning out of Scripture by thoroughly understanding the background of a passage as we seek to apply it.

Peter's vision: Have all meats been cleaned?

One often-misunderstood section of the Bible concerns Peter's vision in which he "saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth." In this sheet "were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air." Peter heard a voice tell him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat" (Acts 10:11-14).

Assuming the vision meant that he should eat unclean animals, Peter's spontaneous response was, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean" (verse 14, emphasis added throughout). This same vision came to him three times (verse 16).

At this point many readers, without finishing the account, assume they know the meaning of the vision: that all kinds of flesh can now be eaten. These scriptures, however, show that that is not at all what Peter understood. On the contrary, he "wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant" (verse 17).

Later Peter realized the significance of the revelation, that "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (verse 28). Recognizing the true intent of the vision, Peter baptized the first gentiles (non-Israelites) called into the Church (verses 45-48).

This divine disclosure, we see from reading further in the account, did not concern food at all. Rather, it concerned people. Because the Jewish religious leaders at the time of Christ had considered gentiles to be unclean, this dramatic vision righted this common misperception that had come to affect Peter and other members of the Church. It demonstrated that God was opening salvation up to members of any race; gentiles whom God called were now welcomed into the Church.

Far from abolishing God's instructions against eating unclean meats, these verses clearly show that Peter, almost two decades after Christ's death, had "never eaten anything common or unclean." Nor is there evidence that he ate unclean meats after this experience. He obviously continued to obey God's laws about meats that could and could not be eaten and saw no reason to change. He realized that the vision could not be annulling God's instructions, thus he "thought about the vision" until he understood its true meaning (verses 17-19, 28).

Food controversy in the Church

When reading through the New Testament, one does find references to a controversy in the early Church involving food. A careful examination of the scriptures, however, reveals the issue to be different from what many assume.

In 1 Corinthians 8 the apostle Paul discussed "the eating of things offered to idols" (verse 4). Why was this an issue?

"Meat was often sacrificed on pagan altars and dedicated to pagan gods in Paul's day. Later this meat was offered for sale in the public meat markets. Some Christians wondered if it were morally right for Christians to eat such meat that had previously been sacrificed to pagan gods" (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, "Meat").

It is interesting, though not conclusive, to note that in Acts 14:13, the only passage in which the type of animal sacrificed to idols is mentioned, it was oxen-clean animals-that were about to be offered.

This controversy was not over the kinds of meat that should be eaten. Obedient Jews of the day, in accordance with God's instruction, did not consider unclean meat even to be a possible source of food. Instead, the controversy dealt with the conscience of each believer.

Paul explained that "an idol is nothing" (1 Corinthians 8:4) in clarifying that it was permissible to eat meats that had been sacrificed to an idol. That an animal had been sacrificed to a pagan god had no bearing on whether the meat was suitable to be eaten.

Paul continued: "However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse" (verses 7-8).

When a believer bought meat in the market or was invited to a dinner at which meat was served, it was not necessary to determine whether it had been offered to an idol, said Paul (1 Corinthians 10:25-27). His concern was that the brethren be considerate of others who believed differently. He taught that in such cases it was better not to eat meat than to risk causing offense (1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:28).

This question of meat sacrificed to idols was a major controversy in New Testament times. It is the foundation for many of Paul's discussions of Christian liberty. Unlike God's law of clean and unclean animals, which was clearly recorded in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures do not discuss the matter of food offered to idols. But in the first-century world of the New Testament this issue varied in significance and importance to members according to their conscience and understanding.

The timing of Paul's letters

The chronological relationship between Paul's letters to the Corinthians and Romans is another important piece of background information often overlooked. Many believe that Romans 14 supports the idea that Christians are free from all former restrictions regarding meats. Verse 14, in which Paul wrote, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean," is often cited as a proof text (see "Understanding 'Unclean' in Romans 14," p. E11).

This approach, however, fails to consider the author's perspective and the context of his letter to the Roman church. Many Bible resources agree that the book of 1 Corinthians was written about 55, although Romans was probably written from Corinth in 56 or 57. As demonstrated above, the food controversy in Corinth was over meat sacrificed to idols. Since Paul was writing to the Romans from Corinth, where this had been a significant issue, this subject was fresh on Paul's mind and is the logical, biblically supported basis for Romans 14.

Understanding Paul's intent

Those who assume the subject of Romans 14 is a retraction of God's law regarding clean and unclean animals must force this interpretation into the text because it has no biblical foundation.

The historical basis for the discussion appears, from evidence in the chapter itself, to have been meat sacrificed to idols.

Verse 2 contrasts the one who "eats only vegetables" with the one who believes "he may eat all things": meat as well as vegetables. Verse 6 discusses eating or not eating and is variously interpreted as referring to fasting (no eating or drinking), vegetarianism (eating only vegetables) or eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols.

Verse 21 shows that meat offered to idols was the dominant issue of this chapter: "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." Both meat and wine were commonly offered to idols in the Roman world, with portions of those offerings then sold in the marketplace.

The Life Application Bible comments on verse 2: "The ancient system of sacrifice was at the center of the religious, social, and domestic life of the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. The remainder was often sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian might easily-even unknowingly-buy such meat in the marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend. Should a Christian question the source of his meat? Some thought there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols because idols were worthless and phony. Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up meat altogether, in order to avoid a guilty conscience. The problem was especially acute for Christians who had once been idol worshipers. For them, such a strong reminder of their pagan days might weaken their newfound faith. Paul also deals with this problem in 1 Corinthians 8."

What is the point of Paul's instruction in Romans 14? Depending upon their consciences, early believers had several choices they could make while traveling or living in their communities. If they did not want to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they could choose to fast or eat only vegetables to make sure they did not consume any meat of suspicious background that might offend their conscience. If their consciences were not bothered by eating meat sacrificed to idols, they could choose any of the options. Within this context, Paul said, "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (verse 5) because "whatever is not from faith is sin" (verse 23).

Romans 14 is, in part, a chapter on Christian liberty-acting according to one's conscience within the framework of God's laws as they pertained to meat sacrificed to idols. Understood in its context, Romans 14 is not a permit to eat pork or any other unclean meat. When one understands that the historical food controversy of the New Testament dealt with meat sacrificed to idols and not which meats were clean, other scriptures become clear.

Debate over ceremonial cleansing

Another often misunderstood passage is Mark 7:18-19. Here Jesus said, "Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" The subject here was unwashed hands (verse 2), not which meats could be eaten. The purification of food referred to the way the body's digestive process eliminates minor impurities such as those that might be present from eating with unwashed hands.

The Pharisees, like Jesus and His disciples, ate only meat specified as clean in the Pentateuch. They objected, however, to the fact that Jesus and His disciples did not go through the Pharisees' customary ritual of meticulously washing up to the elbows before eating.

Jesus, whose hands were sufficiently clean for eating even if not sufficiently clean to meet the Pharisees' humanly devised standards, explained that the human body was designed to handle any minute particles of dust or dirt that happened to enter it because of ritually unclean hands. He further suggested that, if the Pharisees were serious about wanting to obey God, they needed to revise their priorities. Cleansing one's thoughts is eminently more spiritually important than washing one's hands (verses 20-23).

Questionable interpretations

The New International Version of the Bible renders the latter part of verse 19: "(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean')." The New American Standard Bible similarly offers: "([Thus He] declared all foods clean.)" These translations stand in stark contrast to the King James and New King James versions, which indicate that the bodily digestive process purifies food as opposed to Jesus making a pronouncement reversing God's laws on which meats to eat. Which view is correct?

The King James and New King James renditions best fit the New Testament culture wherein only clean meats were eaten. They also fit the context, which concerns eating with ceremonially unwashed hands rather than deciding which kind of flesh is suitable to be eaten.

Notice that in both the NIV and NASB the latter part of verse 19 is placed in parentheses, as though Mark were explaining Jesus Christ's words. This is clearly an interpretation of the original wording of Mark's Gospel. In the original Greek the words "In saying this, Jesus declared" (NIV) and "Thus He declared" (NASB) are not present; translators have added them to try to explain what they think Mark intended and as a result have placed their own mistaken interpretations on Jesus' words.

Putting together all the scriptures on the subject helps us understand the correct biblical perspective (See "How Should We Interpret Scripture?," page E7 ). When we see from passages such as Acts 10, discussed earlier, that Peter had not eaten unclean meat years after Christ's death, it becomes obvious that Jesus' disciples did not believe that He had abolished the commands against eating unclean meats. Such a view simply cannot be sustained in the light of clear scriptures to the contrary.

No New Testament passages describe Christians eating meats that had been considered unclean; such a view is glaringly absent in the Bible. On the contrary, we do find many clear scriptures in which the apostle Paul vigorously and repeatedly upholds adherence to God's laws (Acts 24:14; 25:8; Romans 3:31; 7:12, 22), as did James, the half-brother of Christ (James 2:8-12; 4:11) and John (1 John 3:4). Violating God's dietary laws would have been unthinkable to them.

Colossian controversy clarified

When Paul wrote that Christians should "let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths" (Colossians 2:16), some assume the believers he was addressing were eating pork and other meats previously considered unclean. Again, the Bible nowhere supports this assumption.

In reality, the issue of clean and unclean meats is not addressed in this section. Paul doesn't discuss which foods the Colossians were consuming; the Greek word brosis, translated "food," refers to "the act of eating" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985, p. 245).

Some other translations make this clear. The Twentieth Century New Testament, for example, translates this as "Do not, then, allow any one to take you to task on questions of eating and drinking . . ."

Although many assume that Paul's criticism is directed at teachers who advocated Old Testament practices (such as following the law and practicing circumcision), there is no proof to support this. However, we should recognize that perversions of proper biblical practice abounded at the time, both in Judaism and the emerging early Church. As the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia explains: "There is more than Judaism in this false teaching. Its teachers look to intermediary spirits, angels whom they worship; and insist on a very strict asceticism" (1915 edition, "Epistle to the Colossians").

The false teaching Paul condemned contained many elements of asceticism-avoidance of anything enjoyable-which was intended to make its followers more spiritual. This deluded attempt to attain greater spirituality included "neglect of the body" (Colossians 2:23). Paul characterized the ascetics' misguided rules as "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (verse 21). These efforts only created a "false humility" (verse 23) and were destined to fail because they were based on "the commandments and doctrines of men" (verse 22) rather than God's instruction.

Paul admonished the church at Colosse not to listen to the ascetics. Rather than abrogating God's laws concerning unclean meats-which some people read into this passage-Paul is instructing the Colossian members not to be concerned with ascetic teachers who criticized the manner in which the Colossians enjoyed God's festivals and Sabbaths. Such enjoyment, although condemned by these false teachers, is perfectly acceptable to God.

This section of Colossians 2 is encouragement for the Church to hold fast to its teachings and proper understanding; it is not a treatise on which foods to eat or on which days to worship God. We must be careful not to read preconceived notions into these or any other scriptures.

Misunderstood instructions to Timothy

Still another part of Paul's writings that is often misunderstood is 1 Timothy 4:3-5, where he speaks of false teachers "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."

What was the motivation of these false teachers? Did Paul warn Timothy against teachers who would advocate keeping the biblical dietary laws, or was something else at work? We know that Paul told Timothy that the Old Testament scriptures were inspired by God and "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16), so it isn't credible that Paul would caution Timothy against adhering to instructions found in these same scriptures.

On the other hand, Paul's words show us what the real problem was: These teachers were demanding that people follow commands not found in the Bible. They were "forbidding to marry"-which is encouraged, not discouraged, in the Scriptures-"and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."

The Life Application Bible helps us understand the background of the problem Paul addressed here: "The danger that Timothy faced in Ephesus seems to have come from certain people in the church who were following some Greek philosophers who taught that the body was evil and that only the soul mattered. The false teachers refused to believe that the God of creation was good, because his very contact with the physical world would have soiled him . . . [They] gave stringent rules (such as forbidding people to marry or to eat certain foods). This made them appear self-disciplined and righteous."

Paul discusses the true source of these heretical teachings in 1 Timothy 4:1: Rather than being founded in the Bible, these teachings originated with "deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." Thus the problem in 1 Timothy 4 was perverted worldly asceticism, not obedience to God's biblical laws defining clean and unclean meats. Paul's perspective was that "those who believe and know the truth" (verse 3) would be familiar with the scriptures that identifying which meats were "sanctified [set apart] by the word of God" (verse 5) for our enjoyment. He encouraged Timothy to remind them to let the Scriptures be their guide instead of these ascetic teachers.

In a similar situation dealing with asceticism masquerading as godliness, Paul gave parallel instructions: "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using-according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23). This helps us understand the true nature of the problem Paul discussed with Timothy: asceticism, not adherence to God's dietary laws.

A broader view of history

As we have seen, no scriptural evidence exists that indicates that New Covenant Christians of the early Church ever changed their practice of following God's instructions regarding clean and unclean meats.

Does the Bible give us any other indication regarding when and for how long this law is to remain in effect? Let's set the present aside and move forward in the history of humanity to the time of Christ's return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God. A clear picture of His will for the future provides additional understanding to help guide us in the present.

The book of Revelation, in describing the end-time events leading up to the return of Jesus Christ, uses the expression "a haunt for every unclean and hated bird" (Revelation 18:2). If clean and unclean designations no longer exist, why did Jesus inspire this picture for John? Could it be that God is consistent and unchanging? (James 1:17; Malachi 4:4; Hebrews 13:8; Matthew 5:17-19).

Another scripture that refers to the time of Jesus Christ's return to earth presents this picture: "For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. 'Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together,' says the LORD" (Isaiah 66:15-17).

The biblical position is clear. Distinctions between clean and unclean meats existed long before the New Testament was written; they were followed by the leaders and other members of the early Church; they are currently to be observed even by their successors in the modern Church, which "keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17).

As we have seen, they will continue in effect and will be enforced by Jesus Christ Himself. Even though first-century Christians struggled with their consciences over meat sacrificed to idols, the Bible indicates that they lived in harmony with God's instruction regarding clean and unclean meats. Shouldn't we also be in harmony with those laws?

God's laws are always for our benefit. As the apostle Paul wrote, "the benefits of religion are without limit, since it holds out promise not only for this life but also for the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:8, Revised English Bible). GN



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DOES THE BIBLE PERMIT

CHRISTIANS TO EAT

“UNCLEAN” MEAT

IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES?

Steven M. Collins

3901 Crescent Drive

Sioux Falls, SD 57106

Copyright 1994 Steven M. Collins

For more Bible literature contact: Shelter in the Word PO Box 107, Perry, Michigan 48872-0107

Tel: 517-625-7480 Fax: 517-625-7481 E-mail: info@shelterintheword.com

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During the pre-Christian era, it is a well known

fact that God forbade the Israelites to eat

certain types of animal flesh. While the Israelites

frequently disobeyed God’s instructions, it was

quite clear that God’s law prohibited the

consumption of pork, shellfish and other types of

animal flesh. Therefore, if a person ate “unclean”

food in Old Testament times, it was because they

were choosing to disobey God’s instructions, not

because they felt they had a divine authorization to

consume such meats.

In the modern world, most Christians

consume “unclean” meats not out of rebellion, but

because of a belief that New Testament scriptures

permit them to do so. The belief that Old

Testament instructions on the consumption of

animal flesh are no longer applicable is often

referred to as “Christian liberty” (i.e. “freedom”

from the “restrictions” of the Old Testament). This

article will examine the subject of “unclean meats”

from biblical and scientific viewpoints in an effort

to determine what the “New Testament” Christian

viewpoint on this subject should be. The answer

will reveal whether modern Christians are (A)

exercising “liberty” to eat unclean meats or (B)

ignoring God’s guidance on the subject.

In the Old Testament, the issue was clear: God

said to avoid eating the flesh of certain animals. It

is in New Testament times that the issue has

become blurred. The Old Testament meat

instructions are still found in Leviticus 11 and

Deuteronomy 14 in our Bibles. Clearly, anyone

who eats forbidden animal flesh is disobeying

those scriptures. However, do they have the

“liberty to do so as a result of New Testament

scriptures? A deeper question is: if God really has

abolished his Old Testament dietary laws, is there

any empirical physical evidence to support that

conclusion?

At Mt. Sinai, God gave Moses not only the

Ten Commandments but also many divine

instructions about personal behavior, methods of

worship and lifestyle choices. These divine

instructions came to be known as the “law of

Moses” even though they were actually “the law of

God given to Moses.” When Jesus Christ lived his

physical life, many often forget he was reared as a

devout Jew. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary

observed the seven-day purification period for

women, and also had Jesus circumcised on the

eighth day (Luke 2:21-23), according to the

instructions of the law of Moses in Leviticus 12:1-

3. These aspects of the Law of Moses are found

literally adjacent to the chapter on dietary laws

(Leviticus 11). Since Joseph and Mary

scrupulously observed Leviticus 12 in rearing

Jesus, it follows that they scrupulously observed

Leviticus 11 in their choice of meats which were

fed to Jesus and the rest of their children. The

observant nature of Jesus’ family is further

confirmed in Luke 2:39: “And when they [Joseph

and Mary] had performed all things according to

the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee.”

[Notice that Luke does not call these Old

Testament requirements the “law of Moses.” but

refers to them as the “law of the Lord.”—a subtle,

but important indicator of the early Christian

church’s views about Old Testament laws.] Luke

2:41 adds that Joseph and Mary kept the Feast of

Passover “every year” at Jerusalem. It is not clear

whether they brought their children with them

every year, but verse 42 states that they brought

Jesus with them to Jerusalem for the Passover

Feast when Jesus was twelve years old.

During his adult years, the scriptures portray

Jesus as being loyal to the “observant” traditions of

his parents. We know that Jesus was careful to

observe the Passover and Days of Unleavened

Bread (Matthew 26:17-19), and that he participated

in the “Last Great Day” of the Feast of Tabernacles

(John 7:37). In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus openly

declared his allegiance to the Old Testament Laws

of God (i.e. “law of Moses”). He emphatically

stated:

“think not that I am come to destroy the law

or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to

fulfill... Till heaven and earth pass, one jot [a dot

of the i] or one tittle [a cross of the t] shall in no

wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Whew! Jesus’ affirmation that his coming will

abolish “nothing” from the Old Testament laws of

God ought to give all modern Christians pause

about assuming Jesus made any major changes in

the observance of the dietary laws. Two truisms of

biblical study are as follows: (A) The words of

God (in the Old Testament) and Jesus Christ (in

the New Testament) carry more scriptural authority

than the words of their human followers, and (B)

one must interpret vague scriptures in light of the

meaning of clear scriptures, not vice versa.

Applying both these truisms, any vague passages in

New Testament books must be interpreted in a

manner consistent with the clear declaration of

Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:17. Given the

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vehemence of Jesus’ support for God’s Old

Testament laws in Matthew 5:17-18, we must

insist on finding very explicit evidence in the New

Testament that something was “done away” before

we abandon the practice. This is particularly true in

the case of Paul’s writings as Peter warned that

Paul’s writings were easy to misunderstand (II

Peter 3:16). It is noteworthy that while God

canonized many of Paul’s writings, Peter’s

warning about their difficult doctrinal application

was also canonized. If Paul’s words were easily

misunderstood in his own time and in his own

culture, how much easier might it be for us to

misunderstand Paul’s writings when we not only

read Paul’s words in a different language but are

also two millennia removed from his historical

context?

Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is:

“... the same yesterday, today and forever.

Be not carried about with divers and strange

doctrines.”

Here the writer of Hebrews warns against

following false doctrines by reminding the reader

that Jesus Christ’s doctrines not only “did not

change” but also “will never change.” Does this

scripture sound like Jesus Christ was one to

radically alter the Old Testament laws of God?

Quite the contrary, the scriptural evidence is that

Jesus supported and practiced them faithfully

during his entire life.

It is apparent that Jesus Christ and his

disciples obeyed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11

and Deuteronomy 14. The fact that there is no

mention of any controversy about this point

between Jesus and the Pharisees makes this

evident. The Pharisees were eagerly looking for

grounds to accuse Jesus on religious grounds to

undermine his popularity with the masses. If Jesus

(or his followers) had ever eaten unclean meats,

the Pharisees would have made it one of their

central accusations against him. Likewise, if the

early New Testament church had eaten unclean

meats, it would have been a “cause celebre” in the

book of Acts. The fact that there were no

controversies in the gospels about eating pork,

shellfish, etc. argues that Jesus, his followers and

the Pharisees were all in agreement on this matter.

Paul’s own defense to his Jewish accusers in Acts

22:3 and 23:1 (“I [was] taught according to the

perfect manner of the law of the fathers... I have

lived in good conscience before God until this

day”) also indicates that Paul had maintained a

devout obedience to the laws of God (which

including the dietary laws throughout his life.

Nowhere in the scriptures is Paul accused by his

detractors of “eating unclean meats.”

Having said the above, it needs to be

acknowledged that some things were “done away

with” in the New Testament. Clear scriptures

record that the New Testament did abolish the

need for animal sacrifices and the various rites

associated with those sacrifices (Hebrews 9:9-15,

10:4). It is also clear that the requirement of

physical circumcision was abolished (I Corinthians

7:19 Galatians 6:15). Some might say: “See, that

means the whole law of Moses was abolished,” but

that is a recklessly broad claim. Since the Ten

Commandments were part of the “law of Moses,”

an assertion that the whole “law of Moses” was

“done away with” also asserts the Ten

Commandments were “done away with.” Does that

mean Christians are now “free” to rob banks, lie,

sleep with anyone they want to and murder at

will?” Of course not! Paul himself expressed

amazement that people had gotten the idea that

New Testament faith “did away with” the laws of

God. He wrote in Romans 3:31:

“Do we then make void the law through

faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

Therefore, we must carefully evaluate the

scriptures to see what requirements really were

“done away.” Let us begin with the need for animal

sacrifices and the rituals associated with them. In

Jeremiah 7:22-24, God stated:

“For when I brought your ancestors out of

Egypt, I said nothing to them, gave no orders,

about burnt offerings or sacrifices. My one

command to them was this: Listen to my voice,

then I will be your God and you shall be my

people... but they did not listen.” (New Jerusalem

Bible)

God Himself stated that the sacrificial laws

and rituals were not a part of his original laws

given to Israel, but were added later because the

Israelites did not obey him. Since they were not a

part of God’s original laws, their abolition in the

New Testament does nothing to revoke the main

body of God’s laws. Paul also wrote in Galatians

3:19 that there was an Old Testament “law” which

had been “added because of transgressions.”

Combining Galatians 3:19 with Jeremiah 7:22-24,

it is apparent that the “law” that was “added” [to

the original laws of God] was the “law” (or rules)

about animal sacrifices. Paul did not abolish the

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laws of God in any of his writings, as Romans 3:31

confirms.

Also, the rite of physical circumcision (which

was no longer required in the New Testament) was

not a part of the “law of God,” but was rather a

“sign” of the Old Testament covenant between

God and Israel. Even the Old Testament Hebrew

prophets prophesied that the “Old Covenant”

would eventually be replaced by a “new covenant”

that would be spiritual in nature. Jeremiah 31:31

prophesied:

“Look, the days are coming, Yahweh

declares, when I shall make a new covenant

with the House of Israel (and the House of

Judah), but not like the covenant I made with

their ancestors the day I brought them... out

of Egypt... No, this is the covenant I shall make

with the House of Israel when those days have

come, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant

my Law, writing it on their hearts.” (NJB)

Unlike the temporary covenant made at Sinai,

the “New Covenant” would be “everlasting.”

While the Old Covenant was a physical covenant

(with physical circumcision as its sign), the New

Covenant would be a spiritual covenant (with

circumcision of the “heart” being its sign--Romans

2:28-29). This was foreshadowed in Deuteronomy

10:16 wherein God spoke of the “circumcision of

the foreskin of the heart” as proof of a real

attitude change. When the Old Covenant was

replaced by the New Covenant, the sign of the Old

Covenant (circumcision) became moot and

unnecessary.

Many assume that “since the Old Covenant

was abolished, the Old Testament laws of God

were abolished as well.” This assumption is

incorrect. The Old Covenant and the laws of God

were separate entities. The Old Covenant was a

compact between God and the 12 tribes of Israel

that God would provide national blessings, wealth

and power to them if they obeyed his law, and that

progressively worse curses would befall the tribes

of Israel if they broke his laws. As we know, both

Israel and Judah broke this covenant with God, and

received national curses culminating in their

captivities and removal from the Promised Land.

The New Covenant was prophesied (see Jeremiah

31:31 quoted above) as one which would “plant”

or “write” the laws of God in the heart of a person.

In other words, the Old Covenant failed to enable

mankind to obey God’s laws, but the New

Covenant would enable mankind to obey God

because it would internalize God’s laws within

human hearts. Ezekiel 39:39 and Joel 2:28

prophesied that this would be done when God

shared his own divine Spirit with mankind. This

was fulfilled in the New Covenant process of

repentance, baptism, the receiving of God’s Holy

Spirit, and a lifelong process of submitting to it.

We saw earlier that Paul (in Romans 3:31)

taught that the laws of God were “established,” not

“done away” by the New Testament covenant

based on faith. The Apostle John echoed Paul’s

view in I John 3:24 and 5:3, which state (in the

New Jerusalem Bible):

“Whoever keeps his commandments

remains in God, and God in him... ”

“This is what the love of God is: keeping his

commandments. Nor are his commandments

burdensome... ”

It is clear that the early Apostles believed that

God’s laws were unaffected by the replacement of

the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. The

New Testament scriptures cited above conclusively

show that the abolition of the sacrificial rites,

circumcision and the Old Covenant did not abolish

the laws of God. There are other instructions of

God in the Law of Moses which no longer are

relevant today as they were given to regulate

institutions in ancient Israel which no longer exist

in modern Christian nations (for example:

regulations on slavery in Leviticus 25:35-55). The

important thing to remember is, given Jesus

Christ’s statement that he did not come to abolish

“the law,” the abolition or historical obsolescence

of a specific biblical regulation on how the law

was implemented in ancient Israel does not

abolish the law of God itself.

New Testament Verses Misunderstood

Now let us address the “unclean meats” issue

by examining the New Testament passages which

are often understood to mean that the Old

Testament dietary laws were abolished. The first is

Colossians 2:20-22, which is cited below from the

New Jerusalem Bible.

“If you have really died with Christ to the

principles of this world, why do you still let

rules dictate to you, as though you were still living

in this world?-- ‘do not pick up this, do not eat

that, do not touch the other,’ and all about things

which perish even while they are being used--

according to merely human commandments

and doctrines.” (Emphasis added.)

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Whatever Paul was referring to in his

comment “do not eat that,” he was not referring to

the divine laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy

14. Paul was arguing against “principles of this

world” and “commandments and doctrines” which

were “merely human.” Such human meat

regulations could have been a secular rule in

Colossae (a Gentile city with pagan gods and

temples) that no meat be eaten unless it was first

sacrificed to idols. Paul made it clear that he was

discussing a human meat regulation known to his

readers in Colossae, not the divine meat laws of

the scriptures. This leads us to a second scripture

to be considered, I Timothy 4:4, which states (in

the NJB).

“Everything God has created is good, and

no food is to be rejected, provided it is received

with thanksgiving: the Word of God and prayer

make it holy.” (Emphasis added.)

What makes a food “holy” and acceptable to

eat? An attitude of thanksgiving, prayer and the

Word of God. What was the “Word of God” for

the early Christian church? The only “Word of

God” at that time was the accepted canon of the

Old Testament (i.e. “the Hebrew Bible”)! Leviticus

11 and Deuteronomy 14 are the portions of “the

Word of God” which lists the meats God

approved for human consumption. Rather than

permitting the consumption of unclean meats,

Paul’s instructions to Timothy actually affirmed

that food must have prior approval in the Word of

God (the Old Testament) in order to be eaten.

Therefore, in this passage, Paul is actually

affirming the applicability of the Old Testament

dietary laws.

By examining this passage in its overall

context (I Timothy 4:1-4), we see that Paul was

addressing the subject of enforced vegetarianism,

not the subject of “unclean meats.” Paul warned

that “in the latter times... some shall depart from

the faith,” teaching false doctrines such as “...

commanding to abstain from meats.” Paul

countered that false teaching by saying that it is

permissible to eat animal flesh as long as the meats

were approved in the word of God.” Now consider

that I Timothy 4:4 is contained within a

prophecy about the latter days (which many

regard as our current modern times).

Interestingly, in our modern world we have vocal

“animal rights” advocates (loosely associated with

the New Age Movement) who noisily wish to

impose vegetarianism on society, labeling the

consumption of animal flesh as some kind of

“animal abuse.” Paul was telling those living “in

the latter times” that they should ignore those

who say it is wrong or immoral to eat animal

flesh. Paul prophesied that people could continue

to eat animal flesh in the latter days as long as the

meats were “approved” for human consumption in

God’s Word. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are

those sections of the “word of God” known to Paul

that specified what types of animal flesh were

permitted by God for human consumption. So this

passage of I Timothy actually upheld Leviticus

11’s and Deuteronomy 14’s applicability for the

New Testament (and latter day) Christian

church!

Portions of I Corinthians (chapter 8 and

10:14-33) are also taken by some to permit the

eating of unclean meats. However, the eating of

unclean meats is not the subject of these passages.

In fact, Paul is discussing whether any meats can

be consumed if they have been “offered to idols.”

Paul makes this very clear in I Corinthians 8:1 and

4 in writing:

“Now about foods which have been

dedicated to false gods... On the subject of eating

foods dedicated to false gods... ” (NJB)

There was evidently a difference of opinion

on this subject in the Corinthian church. Some

believed they had the “freedom” to eat such meats

because they knew that non-existent “gods” could

not “bless” anything. While Paul concedes that

fact, he warns such Corinthians that they needed to

be careful about where and what they ate lest they

trouble or offend those with “weaker consciences.”

Paul warned those “with knowledge” that it would

be a sin to trouble another’s conscience in this

matter so it would be preferable to avoid eating

meats altogether in a public eating place associated

with a false god’s temple (see 8:10) rather than risk

troubling a “weak” brother’s conscience who

might, by chance, witness this act of eating and be

“offended.”

In I Corinthians 10:25 when Paul says

“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [meat market],

that eat, asking no questions for conscience sake,”

we must remember Paul was not addressing the

subject of eating unclean meats, but rather the

eating of meats sacrificed to idols (see 10:28). By

lifting I Corinthians 10:25 out of its limited

context, some assume Paul meant it was all right to

eat any unclean meat sold in the marketplace.

Paul’s statement must be understood within its

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context: he was saying that people shouldn’t

bother asking whether a cut of meat was

“sacrificed to idols” before buying it. Paul’s other

writings make it clear he did not sanction the

eating of unclean meats by early Christians, so he

was telling Corinthian church members it was best

to not even ask whether their “clean” meats had

been “blessed by idols” because if the issue was

not brought up, it did not even have to be

addressed.

We must also remember Paul was writing

about this issue to converts living in a gentile,

pagan city. This question would have been

irrelevant in a Jewish community because the Jews

would not have offered their meats to idols as part

of their food preparation process. Paul’s writings

show that he is clearly wrestling with this issue:

upholding the freedom to eat “clean” meats while

ensuring that the greater need (for brethren not to

offend each other in a matter of conscience) took

precedence.

Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is also cited as

biblical sanction for eating unclean meats, but a

literal reading of the text does not support that

view. Peter had a vision (verses 9-16) in which he

saw a sheet full of many animals whose flesh was

“unclean” to eat. This sheet of unclean meat was

offered to him three times with the words “kill

and eat.” In the vision, Peter refuses to do so with

the words: “I have never eaten anything that is

common or unclean.” [This statement affirms

that it was the practice of the Apostles and the

early New Testament Christian church to avoid

eating unclean meats!] In the vision, Peter is told

“what God has made clean, you have no right to

call profane (NJB).” Many assume this means God

“cleansed” unclean food, but they neglect to read

on to see if that assumption is correct. Verse 17 in

the NJB says:

“Peter was still at a loss over the meaning

of the vision he had seen, when the men sent by

Cornelius arrived.” (Emphasis added.)

Note that Peter himself did not attribute to his

vision any meaning that God had cleansed unclean

meats; he simply didn’t know what it meant. He

didn’t have long to wait to determine the meaning

as it became clear as soon the men sent by

Cornelius arrived. Cornelius was a Gentile (a

Roman officer) who had sent three men to Peter

after receiving a vision of his own to do so. Peter

quickly realized that his vision meant that he

should not “call any man (not any meat) common

or unclean.” Peter understood the unclean meat in

the vision had a symbolic, not a literal, meaning).

The Jews of Peter’s time (including Peter)

were so Xenophobic that they avoided contact with

Gentiles as much as possible, regarding them as

“unclean” (as verse 28 confirms). Peter shared that

Xenophobia (an appropriate modern term would be

“racism”), and in all likelihood would not have

accompanied these Gentiles unless God had

revealed to him in the vision “not to treat any man

as unclean” (a conclusion Peter reiterated in verse

34). Later, God gave the Holy Spirit to these

Gentiles in the presence of Peter and his

delegation. What was their reaction? Verse 45

states:

“Jewish believers who had accompanied

Peter were all astonished that... the Holy Spirit

should be poured out on Gentiles too.” (NJB)

The racism of the early Jewish converts was

so strong that even though Peter and his group met

with the Gentiles, there apparently was no chance

that they would have baptized these Gentiles and

accepted them into the church unless God had

performed a miracle by giving them the Holy Spirit

in the presence of Peter and his fellow Christian

Jews. In verse 47, Peter further realized God had

shown them it was also acceptable to baptize

Gentiles into the faith. In chapter 11, some of

Peter’s Jewish friends argued with Peter about

what he had done, but Peter retold the entire

history of his vision and God’s miraculous gift of

the Holy Spirit to the previously--”unclean”

Gentiles. The whole group then agreed with Peter’s

perception of his vision and the subsequent events.

A careful evaluation of “Peter’s vision” reveals

that it contains no message permitting Christians to

eat “unclean meat.” Indeed, we have Peter’s strong

affirmation in Acts 10:14 that he had “never” eaten

anything unclean. The whole purpose of the vision

was to convince the early Jewish Christians to

accept Gentile converts into the church.

Another passage sometimes cited to defend

the eating of unclean meats is Matthew 15:11

wherein Jesus stated:

“What goes into the mouth does not make

anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the

mouth that makes someone unclean.” (NJB)

When the verse is considered in its overall

context, it becomes clear that Jesus isn’t discussing

the subject of eating meats at all. In verses 1-2, the

Pharisees nit-picked Jesus by saying:

“Why do your disciples break away from the

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tradition of the elders? They eat without

washing their hands.

Notice that the subject being discussed is not

the eating of unclean meats, but rather why the

disciples were not washing their hands according

to the practices of the Pharisees (“the elders”).

Jesus then snapped back at them in verses 3-6:

“Why do you break away from the

commandments of God for the sake of your

tradition... you have made God’s word ineffective

by means of your tradition.” (NJB)

Jesus was telling the Pharisees that failure to

observe all the ritualistic “Jewish traditions” was

not a violation of God’s law. He identified the

Pharisees’ subversion of God’s law as the real

transgression. In fact, Jesus was affirming the

necessity of putting God’s laws paramount above

any tradition or requirement of any man or group

of men. By the time Jesus concludes his

denunciation against the “hypocritical” Pharisees

with his statement in verse 10, it is clear that Jesus

is stating that if some foreign particle (dust, a fleck

of dirt, etc.) is accidentally eaten because of

insufficient hand-washing, it was “no big deal.”

What really matters is what comes out of one’s

mouth (our words and speech) which indicates

what is going on in our heart.

To summarize thus far, a careful examination

of the scriptures indicates that the early New

Testament church continued the Old Testament

practice of observing the dietary laws of Leviticus

11 and Deuteronomy 14. The words of Jesus Christ

and Peter as well as the writings of Paul all support

this conclusion. Before we examine physical,

empirical evidence on this question, let us look

closer at Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 to see

what meats God actually permits for consumption

and which he forbids us to eat.

Clean vs Unclean Meat

Besides giving the Israelites a list of which

animals, fish and birds were “fit to eat,” he also

gave them general guidelines for recognizing those

animals which would be acceptable to eat. In

Leviticus 11:3 and Deuteronomy 14:6, God stated

that any cud-chewing animal with parted hooves

would be clean to eat. Deuteronomy 14:4-5 permits

the consumption of cattle, sheep, oxen, the deer

and antelope family, etc. This identifies such North

American wildlife as Buffalo and Elk as “clean” to

eat as well. Leviticus 11:4-8 lists such animals as

camels, coneys (some margins say “rock badger”),

rabbits and pigs as being unfit to eat. Leviticus

11:29-31 lists “creeping things” (weasels, mice,

rats, turtles, lizards, snails and moles) as being

unfit to eat under God’s instructions. Snakes, dogs,

cats and alligators also fail to qualify as clean

foods. Leviticus 11:27 identifies all four-footed

animals with paws (bears, lions, tigers, etc.) as

being unclean to eat.

Leviticus 11:9-12 states that all salt- and

fresh-water fish may be eaten as long as they have

“fins and scales”. However, all shellfish, squid,

frogs, octopi, etc. are identified as unclean for

human consumption. Regarding birds, Leviticus

11:13-20 lists types of birds which are unclean for

human consumption. Besides identifying birds of

prey- and carrion-eaters as unclean, the Bible lists

cormorants, swans, pelicans, storks, herons and

bats as unclean to eat. [Bats “flying things” in the

Bible’s classification system.] Such birds as

chickens, turkeys, pheasants, etc. are not on the

“unclean” list, and are therefore “clean” meats.

Surprisingly, verses 21-22 list locusts and

grasshoppers as being “clean” meats, but all other

insects are listed as unclean.

In Leviticus 11:43-47, God concludes his

instructions on meats with these words:

“You shall not make ourselves abominable with

any creeping thing... neither shall you make

yourselves unclean with them that you should

be defiled thereby. For I am the Lord your God:

you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you

shall be holy... you shall therefore be holy, for I

am holy. This is the law of the beasts... to make a

difference between the unclean and the clean,

and between the beast that may be eaten and

the beast that may not be eaten.” (Emphasis

added.)

God regarded humans to be “defiled” or

“unclean” if they ate the flesh of “unclean”

animals. He expected the Israelites to refrain from

unclean meats to maintain a state of “holiness” in

his sight. As noted earlier, the early New

Testament church obeyed God’s instructions in

Leviticus 11. The Apostle Peter recoiled at the

thought of eating unclean meats (Acts 10:14), and

the Apostle Paul wrote that animal flesh had to be

sanctified in “the Word of God” (Old Testament

scriptures) before it could be eaten. Consider also

Paul’s instructions in II Corinthians 6:16-18. After

commenting on the importance of being separate

from the sinfulness of the world in verses 14-16,

Paul writes (in the KJV):

8

“... for you are the Temple of the living

God; as God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them and

walk in them; and I will be their God, and they

shall be my people, Wherefore come out from

among them, and be you separate,’ saith the

Lord, ‘and touch not the unclean thing: and I

will receive you, and will be a father to you and

you shall be my sons and daughters.’” (Emphasis

added.)

Interesting! While writing to a congregation in

a Gentile community, Paul quotes God’s (Old

Testament) instructions to “touch not the unclean

thing’ as part of a commentary on maintaining

Christian holiness. In citing the scriptures of the

Hebrew Bible, Paul was likely referring to

forbidden meats as “unclean things,” especially

since his fellow Apostle, Peter, specifically used

the word “unclean” to describe forbidden meats

(Acts 10:14). Even as the Israelites were forbidden

to eat unclean meats as part of their “holiness”

obligation toward God, Paul told early Christians

to also avoid “unclean things” as part of their

“holiness” obligation toward God. In other words,

Paul was telling Corinthian Christians they would

be defiling their bodies (“the temple of the living

God”) if they “touched unclean things.”

The above passage indicates that even Paul,

the “apostle to the Gentiles,” affirmed that the

animal meat restrictions of the Old Testament were

binding on New Testament Christians. Somehow,

this fact has been overlooked by virtually all of

modern Christendom.

Follow Bible Dietary Laws Today?

Did God still expect Christians to obey his

dietary restrictions even after the Christian church

became more “Gentile” and less “Jewish” in later

centuries? What about in our modern time? Do the

meat restrictions matter to God any more? For our

answer, let us consider God’s attitude on the

subject as found in a prophecy about the latter day

period preceding the return of Jesus Christ (or “the

coming of the Lord” in Old Testament parlance.)

Isaiah 66:15-16 introduces a prophecy about the

time when “the Lord will come with fire... for by

fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all

flesh: and the slain of the Lord will be many.”

[This directly parallels Revelation 19:11-21’s

prophecy that the return of Jesus Christ will

involve a bloody war in which Jesus’ heavenly

army slays huge numbers of human armies who

resist his rule.] Isaiah’s prophecy concludes in

verses 22-23 with millennial language about “a

new heavens and a new earth,” and “all flesh” on

earth coming to worship God. After this prophecy

is introduced in verses 15-16, notice what is

mentioned in verse 17 as one of humanity’s sins in

the latter days which provokes God to anger.

“As for those... who eat the flesh of pigs,

revolting things and rats: their deeds and

thoughts will perish together, declares Yahweh.”

How many Christians realize that prophecy

reveals that one of the sins which provokes God’s

wrath in the latter days is mankind’s eating of pigs

and other unclean meats? The answer is very few,

indeed.

We have now examined scriptures confirming

that God forbids and condemns the eating of

unclean animal flesh in (A) the Old Testament

period, (B) the early New Testament church, and

(C) the latter-day time period as well. There are no

scriptures in the New Testament which clearly

permit Christians to eat unclean meats. The

conclusion of the entire biblical discussion on this

subject is that God still forbids the eating of

“unclean meats.” What an affirmation of Malachi

3:6 wherein God states: “I change not,” and

Hebrews 13:8 which states: “Jesus Christ, the same

yesterday, and today and for ever.”

The unmistakable biblical teaching is that

those Christians who wish to obey God should

abstain from eating the flesh of animals which are

identified in the Bible as “unclean.”

So far, we have examined only biblical

evidence of God’s position on unclean meats.

However, if God made this physical world (as the

Bible asserts), then we should also be able to see

physical, empirical evidence that unclean meats are

somehow harmful for human beings. Conversely, if

God “purified unclean foods,” the physical world

should reflect an absence of risk in consuming

them. Therefore, let us examine physical evidence

on the subject.

It is well known that the flesh of animals

dubbed “unclean” for human consumption pose

unique risks to humans who eat them. The

Webster’s Dictionary definition of “trichinosis”

states:

“a trichinal disease marked by fever,

diarrhea, muscular pains, etc. and usually

acquired by eating undercooked, infested pork.”

The Encyclopedia Americana adds this

warning:

“Hogs may be infested by parasitic

9

roundworms called... (trichina), which are lodged

in muscle tissue. The trichina can be transferred

to humans if raw or inadequately cooked pork is

ingested, and serious, sometimes fatal, illness

may result...

There is more likelihood of pork being

contaminated by trichina in the United States

than in Europe. In Europe, hog carcasses are

inspected microscopically for evidence... of

trichina.” (Emphasis added.)

The Americana also states the following about

trichinosis:

“The disease is worldwide, and about 15%

of the United States population is said to be

infested, although the majority of cases remain

asymptomatic. The degree of severity of the

infection is believed to depend on the number

of trichinae contained in the ingested pork...

The mortality of symptomatic cases runs

from 5 to 40%... Once the trichinae are encysted

in muscle tissue they cannot be dislodged...

Death is usually from cardiac or respiratory

failure in the acute phase.” (Emphasis added.)

Interesting! In spite of widespread measures to

protect the public from pork-related trichina

infections, approximately “15%” of Americans

have become “infested” anyway. Consider the

Americana’s comments about shellfish poisoning:

“... any of a group of disorders that develop

following the eating of oysters, clams and other

shellfish harvested form polluted waters. Nearly

all the disorders are caused by disease

organisms or the toxic substances ingested

by the shellfish. The disorders range from

diseases such as cholera and infective hepatitis

to attacks of diarrhea and vomiting caused by

unidentified organisms.

“One of the most serious disorders in this

group is paralytic shellfish poisoning associated

with... certain protozoa... that are eaten by

shellfish. (Emphasis added.)

In an adjacent article, the Americana defines

“shellfish” as: “... aquatic shelled invertebrates,

many of which are popular foods. See Clam, Crab,

Crustacea... Lobster, Mollusk, Oyster, Shrimp,

Snail and Slug.”

It is a well-established scientific fact that the

flesh of pigs and shellfish pose special infection

risks to humans. If 15% of Americans are infested

with trichina as a direct result of eating pork, one

wonders how many unexplained cases of “cardiac

or respiratory” problems could be a result of

trichina infestations. One also wonders how many

cases of unexplained diarrhea or vomiting

attributed to mysterious “bugs” are actually caused

by eating shellfish.

It is worth noting that while the health risks of

eating pork and shellfish (forbidden meats

according to the Bible) are so well-known that they

deserve their own listing in encyclopedias, there

are no such special diseases associated with

biblical “clean meats.” It is, however, possible for

clean meats to harm humans as well if animals are

not properly fed, slaughtered or processed. Clean

meats can also be harmful to eat if they have

consumed toxic chemicals in their habitat (for

example, otherwise “clean” fish can pose a health

threat to humans if they have ingested mercury or

other toxins in their habitat).

Whoever gave the Israelites the dietary

laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14

possessed scientific knowledge that mankind

would not learn for three millennia! The laws of

God specifically forbade the eating of those types

of animal flesh which are now identified as being

most likely to cause human diseases and death.

This argues that the Bible is, indeed, the word of a

Creator God whose revelations to mankind are

given for the benefit of mankind. In forbidding

unclean meats, God gave wise parental instructions

to humans made in his image even as a loving

human parent might say: “Don’t touch that hot

stove” or “Don’t experiment with drugs.” When

children harm themselves by foolishly disregarding

parental “revelation,” parents often think “if only

they had listened to me.” When God sees his

human children harm themselves by disregarding

his revelations, he must have a the same reaction.

No wonder God said in Deuteronomy 5:29-33:

“O that there were such a heart in them [the

Israelites] that they would... keep all my

commandments always, that it might be well

with them and with their children for ever!

“you shall walk in all the ways which the

Lord your God hath commanded you, that you

may live and that it may be well with you, and

that you may prolong your days... ” (Emphasis

added.)

God didn’t give his laws to arbitrarily assert

power over human beings. He gave his laws

(including the meat laws) “that it might be well

with them.”

While God didn’t reveal the scientific reasons

for his meat commands, a scientific basis is easily

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postulated. God’s law generally forbids the

consumption of (A) carrion-eaters, and (B) animals

who kill other creatures for their food. Pigs,

vultures, raptors, etc. are capable of eating (and

thriving) on diseased or decaying flesh. Predatory

animals (lions, raptors, etc.) often prey on the weak

(and sometimes diseased) animals in the herds of

prey animals. Regarding seafood, bottom-dwelling

shellfish (clams, lobsters, oysters, etc.) eat

decaying organic detritus which sinks to the

seafloor. A common denominator of many

“unclean” animals is that they can thrive on

decaying and diseased flesh which would sicken or

kill a human being. When humans eat carrion- or

prey-eating animals, they are partaking of a “food

chain” which includes things harmful to humans. A

humorous modern motto on identifying “unclean”

animals and birds might be: “if it eats roadkill,

don’t eat it.”

While it is documented that unclean meats can

pose “acute” risks to humans, mankind is very

inventive in trying to find ways around God’s laws.

Even as the invention of birth control devices has

lessened (but not eliminated) the unwanted

pregnancy and venereal disease risks involved in

fornication and adultery, mankind has invented

food processing techniques to minimize the acute

risks of catching diseases from unclean flesh. As

proof of this, it is now uncommon in the western

world to have acute trichinosis outbreaks.

However, are there chronic risks ( not yet

discovered) of eating unclean animal flesh? Even

as we know a body can recover from a short

exposure to cigarette smoke but long-term use of

tobacco can be fatal, are there long-term risks in

consuming unclean meats that are not yet known?

We do know that our modern world (which eats

large amounts of unclean meats) has developed

many degenerative diseases, the causes of which

are not well-understood. It may not be possible to

conduct scientific tests on the chronic risks of

eating unclean meats because the tests would

literally have to span lifetimes, and people would

have to practice the same meat-eating habits over

those lifetimes before correlations could be made

on which groups developed more degenerative

diseases. However, this author believes that given

the known short-term health risks of eating unclean

meats, it is likely that eating unclean meats also

poses long-term health risks which are not yet

appreciated. God told the Israelites that they would

be “blessed” and “prolong their days” if they

obeyed his laws (including the meat laws). Since

Christ declared that God’s laws were not “done

away,” this argues that if Christians obey God’s

laws on clean and unclean meats, it will lead to a

healthier, longer life for them as well.

The Bible claims to be God’s “instruction

manual” for mankind, listing for mankind what is

good and what is harmful in virtually every aspect

of human lifestyle choices. When you buy a car,

you receive an “instruction manual” with the car

telling how it should be fueled, oiled, serviced and

maintained if you want it “to have a healthy, long

(mechanical) life.” This instruction manual is the

manufacturer’s “revelation” to the owner. If these

instructions are disregarded, bad things happen. So

it is with mankind and our bodies. If we disregard

God’s “instruction manual” (The Bible), bad things

happen. Therefore, it behooves us to know and

obey God’s instructions in the Bible, his revelation

to us.

There is another powerful piece of empirical

evidence that God’s dietary laws are still in effect,

although this particular piece of evidence does not

directly involve meats. God’s laws included many

instructions about personal conduct with we now

understand are important, scientifically-based

sanitation and hygienic regulations. While the

ancient Israelites could not have known the

scientific basis for God’s instructions, they were

nevertheless “blessed” if they obeyed them.

These health-related regulations included

quarantining the sick (Leviticus 13:1-46), either

burning or washing the garments of sick people

(Leviticus 13:47-59), and the thorough bathing of

sick people before ending their quarantines

(Leviticus 14:8-10). Leviticus 15 required

thoroughly washing the garments of men and

women with bodily discharges (including

menstrual discharges). The “law of Moses” (which

was really the “Law of God given to Moses”) even

required baths and clothes-washing of anyone who

was spit upon by a sick person (verse 8), and called

for the destruction or washing of cookware and

eating utensils used by sick people (verse 12).

Even touching the bedlinens of a person with a

bodily discharge required attendants to wash

themselves and their clothing (verse 21).

Deuteronomy 23:13-14 required that latrines be

located away from living quarters, and that

excrement be promptly buried. Even the rites

governing the animal sacrifices called for the

prompt burning or burial of animal wastes and

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tissues (Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:11).

All the above laws are easily recognized as

scientifically-based instructions to prevent the

spread of disease-causing bacteria. What is

profoundly significant is that these instructions

were given three millennia before mankind

attained sufficient skills to learn the scientific

basis for God’s regulations. This is, again,

powerful evidence that the Bible was authored by

the Creator God as only a Creator God could have

then understood the science of microbiology

underlying these hygienic regulations. Whoever

gave these regulations to Moses understood how

the transmission of bodily fluids can spread

diseases as many of the Levitical laws were

designed to stop the spread of contaminated body

fluids. Quarantines, prompt burial of fecal and

animal-slaughter wastes, washing the clothing and

cookware of the sick (as well as their attendants),

and regular bathing of the human body are sound

scientific principles to stop the spread of diseases.

Were God’s hygienic laws “done away

with” in New Testament times? Of course not!

Modern science now knows that these laws of God

are critically-necessary elements in maintaining

proper hygiene in a hospital, community or home.

Sadly, mankind has ignored these vital instructions

of God for much of our existence on earth, and has

suffered the consequences of innumerable disease

epidemics as a result. Let us examine just one

example.

While the early Christian church continued to

observe God’s laws (so much so that it was seen as

a “Jewish” sect in the 1st century A.D.--Acts

28:22), by Medieval times Christianity had

undergone a radical change from its early

Apostolic roots. Collier’s Encyclopedia states:

“The superstition and dogmatism that

marked the rise of Christianity in Europe

continued to flourish throughout the Middle Ages.

As in Babylon, astrology ruled the prognosis...

Hygiene and sanitation were at a very low level,

since the human body was held in contempt. St.

Jerome saw no reason for any baths after the

baptism.” 6

By universally rejecting the sanitary and

hygienic rules of “the law of Moses,” Medieval

Europe was inviting disaster. It is even possible

that Medieval Christians deliberately ignored these

Old Testament laws in order to avoid “Judaizing.”

In the fourteenth century A.D., disaster struck

Europe in the form of a pandemic known as the

Black Death. The Encyclopedia Americana

records:

“The Black Death was bubonic plague or its

more virulent relative, pneumonic plague... the

plague bacillus was transmitted either by the

fleas of black rats (bubonic) or by the infected

wastes of its victims (pneumonic)... When the

Black Death struck, Europe was completely

helpless to combat it... standards of public health

and personal hygiene were nearly non-existent....

it is estimated that somewhere between onequarter

and one-third of Europe’s population died

in the years 1347-1350... Jews were accused of

spreading the plague by poisoning wells, and

pogroms directed against them occurred in the

Rhineland and Switzerland.

Collier’s Encyclopedia adds:

“By the end of 1350, two-thirds of all

Europeans had been attacked, of whom about

one-half died, a total of 25,000,000 deaths...

More than half the population of London, and

perhaps of all England, died... Plague ships

drifted idly about with whole crews stricken.

This plague flourished in conditions of

widespread disobedience to God’s laws on

sanitation and hygiene. If there had been

widespread obedience to the Levitical laws

requiring quarantines of the sick, the prompt burial

of fecal wastes, the washing (or burning) of the

clothes, eating utensils and bedlinens of the

diseased, the Black Death plague would have been

localized or prevented altogether because

widespread sanitary conditions would have vastly

lessened the numbers of disease-carrying rats.

Besides the casualties listed above, there were

many more who died in subsequent outbreaks of

the Plague during the next few centuries in Europe,

and another 13,000,000 died of the plague when it

spread to China in 1380.9 Tens of millions of

people died and tens of millions more suffered

greatly because Medieval Christians mistakenly

thought God’s Old testament laws were “done

away.” Were God’s Levitical laws on health and

sanitation “done away?” Of course not! Their

scientific applicability will last as long as the

physical world does! (Does that remind us of

Jesus’ similar statement in Matthew 5:18?).

Millions of deaths across continents could have

been prevented if only the people of the 14th

century had been obedient to God’s sanitation and

hygiene laws. Is it any wonder God said in Hosea

4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of

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knowledge.” People tend to see God’s Old

Testament laws as the burdensome requirements of

an arbitrary god. What they fail to appreciate is

that when God gave his laws to the Israelites, he

was imparting to them priceless “insider

information” about the workings of the physical

world.

When it became known that the Black Death

was sparing Jews (who were observing the Law of

Moses), did Medieval society go to the Jews to try

to learn the reasons why their neighborhoods were

resistant to the plague? No, they superstitiously

(and wrongly) blamed and persecuted the Jews for

the plague!

What does all this have to do with the subject

of unclean meats? Plenty. God’s sanitation and

hygiene laws are part of the “law of Moses” and

are found in the book of Leviticus alongside the

laws about clean and unclean meats. If there was

scientific evidence that the sanitation and hygiene

laws of God were no longer applicable, we might

infer that the meat restrictions were moot as well.

However, the opposite is true. We know beyond

any shadow of doubt that God’s Levitical

sanitation and hygiene laws are still binding

(Indeed, we now comprehend the compelling

scientific reasons for their issuance).

Consequently, it is logical to infer that God’s

dietary restrictions are still in effect today as well.

It is a well-established fact that pork and shellfish

can pose acute health risks, and unclean meats such

as these may also pose a long-term risk of

degenerative diseases that will be better understood

in the future. The sanitation and hygiene laws of

God and the meat laws stand or fall together as

they were both given at the same time by the same

God of Israel to Moses at Sinai.

In summation, we have seen that there is no

biblical basis for believing that the Old Testament

dietary laws were “done away” in New Testament

times. Indeed, we have seen that the early

Apostolic church obeyed those meat laws, and

several New Testament scriptures openly affirm

the Levitical meat laws. Somewhere between the

Apostolic church and the modern era, the Christian

church stopped obeying God’s laws, probably

because of a fear of “Judaizing” as there were

edicts to persecute or kill those who did so. Many

millions of people have died in the last two

millennia because the Christian church foolishly

forsook God’s sanitation and hygiene laws. Who

knows how many people have died (or suffered)

because they ignored God’s laws regarding what

meats are safe to eat. We now know God’s laws

were based on scientific knowledge that was 3000

years ahead of mankind’s ability to discover or

confirm their wisdom.

Let us conclude with an observation on our

relationship with God. If we believe that God is an

all-wise Creator as well as a loving Father, it

logically follows that we should believe that his

biblical instructions represent the wise instructions

of a caring Father/Creator who wishes to guide his

children into beneficial behaviors and away from

destructive practices. Any human parent who

restricts a child’s behavior by commanding them

“Don’t play in the street” or “Don’t touch a hot

stove” is displaying parental love. God’s

instructions (and restrictions) are offered to us in

that same spirit of parental love. So this issue also

involves trust. Do we trust God to give us the

wisest advise on a subject, or will we “lean unto

our own understanding?” You, the reader, must

now decide whether to eat “unclean meats” in the

future. At least, you now have all the information

you need on the subject to make an informed

decision.

Endnotes

1. Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second Concise

Edition, Avenel Books, 1975, see Heading

“trichinosis,” p. 798

2. Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 22, 1988 Edition,

see Heading entitled “Pork,” p. 416

3. Ibid, Vol. 27, see Heading “Trichinosis,” p. 99

4. Ibid, Vol. 24, see Heading entitled “Shellfish

Poisoning,” p. 697

5. Ibid, see Heading entitled “Shellfish,” p. 697

6. Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, 1957 Edition, see

Heading entitled “Medicine--Medieval European

Medicine,” p. 352

7. Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 4, 1988 Edition, see

Heading entitled “Black Death,” pp. 29-30

8. Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 1957 Edition, see

Heading entitled “Black Death,” p. 483

9. Ibid, p. 483

For more Bible literature contact: Shelter in the Word PO Box 107, Perry, Michigan 48872-0107

Tel: 517-625-7480 Fax: 517-625-7481 E-mail: info@shelterintheword.com

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