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UNCLEAN MEAT




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animal flesh are no longer applicable is often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):

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“... 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

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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

10

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

11

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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