The Bible Diet:
What animals are "clean" and "unclean"?
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, moneys (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 freshwater 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:
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):
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.
Unclean Meats and the "end time"
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 :
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.
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:
and Hebrews 13:8 which states:
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."
Scientific evidence about unclean meats
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:
The Encyclopedia Americana adds this warning:
The Americana also states the following about trichinosis:
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:
In an adjacent article, the Americana defines "shellfish" as:
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 listings 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 the same reaction.
No wonder God said in Deuteronomy 5:29-33:
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 postulated. God's law generally forbids the consumption of
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 sea floor. 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 healtheir, 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.
God's Laws on health
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 which 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 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.
Consequences of disobeying God's health laws
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:
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:
Collier's Encyclopedia adds:
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:
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.
Written by: Steven M. Collins