It is commonly taught in Christian circles that the laws
regarding diet (clean and unclean meats) have been
abolished. Could this be true, or have we made a
mistake? In this article we will examine what clean
and unclean meat is, why God might have given these laws,
and whether or not the New Testament has abolished, or set
aside, these laws.
The purpose for clean and unclean foods:
The word used in the Old Testament referring to
unclean is ṭâmê' and literally means
"to be foul, contaminated: - defile (self), pollute
(self), polluted (-tion), unclean" (Strong's
Concordance - H2930/H2931). The word used for
literally means "clean, fair, pure -
Strong's Concordance - H2889). In the
Scripture, God has declared certain animals to be
unclean, or polluted, contaminated and foul while
others are clean, fair and pure. In
other words, God has declared some animals as food
(pure) and others not (polluted). Those that
are designated for food have some things in common
like cloven hooves and chewing cud (Lev. 11:3-8).
If an animal does not have both of these
distinctions, it is unclean. As far as fish
go, they must have both fins and scales to be clean
to eat (Lev. 11:9-12). God even gives a list
concerning birds and insects that can be eaten.
From the list you can determine that the predators
and scavengers of the birds cannot be eaten while
the others can. God, as the creator of all
things, understands the anatomy of His creation far
better than we do. We might be wise to listen
to His command and try to find out why He might have
said such a thing.
we try to remember God as our Creator and Designer,
it might help keep things in perspective. God
designed our bodies to function in a certain way.
He made our immune system to protect us from
disease. He made our endocrine system to
regulate our hormones and chemicals.
He made our nervous system so our body and brain can
communicate. He made our muscular
system so we might move and our skeletal system to
hold it all together. He made our circulatory
system to provide nutrients to all of these systems
and our digestive system processes all the fuel to
feed these systems. All of these systems, and
more, work together to keep our body functioning
properly. The final step in God's design is
the right fuel to use. Just like a car manual
informs you on what fuels and oils go where, so does
the Scripture inform us on what fuel we should feed
our body. After all, our bodies are the temple
of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and we should not
defile it (Rom. 12:1).
The fuel that we put into our bodies can defile
(make unclean) our bodies and cause it to function
poorly. A simple study of the animals on the
list will demonstrate so. The animals that
chew the cud and divide the hoof are grazing
animals. They eat things such as grass and
various plants. Their digestive system is very
thorough and they process the healthy food that they
eat very well. These animals are fit to eat
because what they eat is clean and unpolluted.
Those animals that do not chew the cud and divide
the hoof are scavengers and eat just about anything.
They do not have a thorough digestive system, but
rather, have a digestive system built to eat the
garbage of the earth like dead carcasses and unclean
meats. The same is true for the fish and
birds. The fish with fins and scales are not
scavengers and eat a healthier diet than those
without fins or scales who scavenge the bottom of
the waters. God designed each animal for a
purpose and we should follow that design. Some
animals are to eat (cows, goats, chickens), some are
to work (horses, donkeys, camels), some are to
clean/scavenge (coyotes, cat fish, vultures).
Our bodies will work properly and be healthier if we
eat the fuel that God designed for our bodies.
With this understanding it seems very clear why God
would instruct us on what to eat and what not to
eat. Why then, do so many who profess to
believe in the Messiah, ignore His instructions
regarding the fuel system of our bodies? Are
there any verses that might lead someone to believe
that God abolished His dietary laws? In fact,
there are a few verses that some interpret this way,
but a closer look will demonstrate the opposite is
true. Here are a few examples of Scripture
commonly used to abolish God's dietary laws:
Matthew 15 and Mark 7: (Encounters with
Many times the Messiah had encounters with a group
known as the Pharisees. These were Jewish leaders
who were contentious with the Messiah. A
common theme in these encounters concern the
"tradition of the elders" (Matt. 15:2-3, 6, Mark
7:3-5, 8-9, 13). It seems that the Pharisees
expected the Messiah to follow their law (tradition
of the elders) as well as God's law from the
Scriptures. It is clear from these encounters
that we are not bound by man's traditions, but we
are bound by God's Law. For example, in
Matthew fifteen the Pharisees accused the Messiah
and the Apostles of not washing their hands before
they ate bread. This is a "tradition of the
elders," but no where found in the Scriptures.
The Messiah sums up the argument by saying, "But in
vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the
commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). It is vain
to worship God with the "commandments of men."
We are to worship God with His commandments.
No where does the Messiah endorse the breaking of
any of God's laws, even His dietary laws.
There is a parallel passage in Marks Gospel that is
often used to show that the dietary laws are
abolished. In Mark 7:9, the Messiah reprimands
the Pharisees by saying, "Full well ye reject the
commandment of God, that ye may keep your own
tradition." The Pharisees held their
traditions" as high as God's law. The Messiah
makes it clear that He upholds the law of God by
saying later that they "Mak[e] the word of God of
none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13).
The verse in question that many use to say God's
dietary laws are abolished is in Mark 7:19. In
the NIV, this verse ends with, "In saying this,
Jesus declared all foods clean." However, this
phrase is not in the majority of the Greek
manuscripts available. It is only in a select
few, of which these manuscripts show evidence of
tampering. Other translations that use
different manuscripts leave this out, such as the
King James translation. If the phrase, "Jesus
declared all foods clean" were the correct
translation, then we would have a sharp
contradiction in God's word. The Messiah is not endorsing God's
law in one verse and then in the very next verse
abolishing it. Why would God command us to
keep his dietary laws in Leviticus chapter eleven,
then have His Messiah sharply contradict it.
is worth noting that in Acts 10:14 Peter clearly
stated to the Messiah, "I have never eaten any thing
that is common or unclean." If the Messiah
abolished the dietary laws, why then is Peter still
following them years later in Acts 10? Either
Peter is very slow and does not understand the
Messiah's plain speech, or the Messiah never did
abolish the dietary laws. However, despite
this fact, many use Acts 10 to validate their belief
that the dietary laws are abolished, which leads us
to our next section of Scripture.
Acts Chapter 10: (Peter's Vision)
chapter ten, the Apostle Peter has a vision that
many use to say that the dietary laws are abolished.
The vision Peter saw was of a "sheet" coming down
from heaven (Acts 10:11). This sheet contained
all sorts of unclean animals (Acts 10:12).
Peter was told to, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat"
(Acts 10:13). Peter responded by saying he
has, "never eaten any thing that is common or
unclean" (Acts 10:14). Peter then doubted
himself as to what the vision
meant (Acts 10:17).
Though the Scripture does not say, I would contend
that Peter doubted because eating such meats is so
contrary to what the Scripture teaches.
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit begins to teach him the
meaning of the vision (Acts 10:19). Peter was
taken to a Gentile house where, "Cornelius (a
Gentile) met him, and fell down at his feet, and
worshipped him" (Acts 10:25). Peter refused
the worship and then understood the vision's meaning
and stated, "Ye know how that it is an unlawful
thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or
come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed
me that I should not call any man common or unclean"
(Acts 10:28). Peter's understanding of the
vision is that of racial discrimination and not
clean or unclean meats. Up until Acts 10, the
Apostles only went to the tribes of Israel with the
Gospel, but they were supposed to go to all the
world (including the Gentiles). This was the
Holy Spirit showing Peter that God's Grace extends
to the Gentiles as well as the Israelites.
Many use Acts 10:28 to show that it was "unlawful,"
according to the Torah, for Israelites to keep
company with Gentiles. This is used as an
example of God removing some of His Laws.
Through careful study you will discover that God's
Law never taught this, but rather, taught the
opposite. In Exodus 22:21 and Leviticus 19:34,
God allows for Gentiles to be part of the House of
Israel; however, they have to keep the same Law as
the Israelites (Ex. 12:49, Ex. 20:10, Lev. 8:26).
The "unlawful thing" Peter is speaking of is a
"tradition of the elders" and not the Law of God.
The Pharisees had a law that mandated separation
from Gentiles, but this was not God's law.
This is made clear by the use of the word "common"
with the word "unclean." Unclean is a word
used in the Scripture to refer to things we cannot
eat. Common is a term used by the Pharisees to
distinguish food that is not to be eaten based on
ceremonial rituals and apart from God's law.
Peter's vision is to clarify an old law, not abolish
a law or add a new one. God has always allowed
Gentiles into His house, as long as they keep His
commandments (Lev. 8:26). Peter did not
understand this, which is why the Apostle Paul had
to "withst[and] him to the face" (Gal. 2:11-12).
Peter did not understand that God is not prejudiced
based on a person's race, but based upon the
practice of His Law. All men can come to the
Messiah, place their faith in Him to forgive them of
their sins, and practice His law.
1 Timothy 4: (Is every creature of God
good to eat?)
Timothy chapter four is another passage commonly
used to show that God's dietary laws are abolished.
A detailed examination of this passage can be found
However, as a simple overview, to understand 1
Timothy 4 as it regards to the dietary laws, all you
need is to realize that the topic is of
vegetarianism (1 Tim. 4:3) and not eating any meat
you like. It is important to keep in mind that
some were commanding others to "abstain from meats,
which God hath created to be received." If God
created these "meats" to be received as food, then
no one can command us not to eat them. All "creatures of God" are clean and
to be "received with thanksgiving," as long as they
are "sanctified by the word of God"
(1 Tim. 4:5).
The Scripture clearly "sanctifies" (sets apart) the
animals we can eat in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy
14, where God gives
us His dietary laws. Paul clearly has clean
meat in mind when he made this statement. When
you understand this chapter in this context
everything becomes clear. 1 Timothy chapter
four is not abolishing the dietary laws, but warning
about those who push vegetarianism on others
contrary to God's law. We do not need to worry
about eating any meat that God has declared is good
It is very unfortunate that today many want to
ignore God's dietary laws. When properly
understood it is clear they are for our benefit.
Just as putting the right kind of fuel in the tank
of your car is very important, so is putting the
right kind of fuel in our bodies (temple of the Holy
Spirit) is very important. What many seem to
forget is that in the future Millennial Kingdom, the
Messiah will require that we keep the dietary laws
of the Scripture (Is. 66:17). If we will
eventually have to follow these laws, shouldn't we
them now for good practice? Why would God enforce
His laws, then abolish them for a couple thousand
years, only to enforce them again? This does
not make any sense. The notion that the
Messiah abolished these laws when He died on the
cross also does not make any sense. Is pig now
healthy for us because of the Messiah's death?
Are scavengers and shellfish now healthy for us?
Did the physiology of our bodies change that we can
now process the meat that God previously told us was
unhealthy for us? How did His death make a
change in these animals so as to make them now
good/healthy for us? I contend that we should
believe that God was right all along, and assume we
have made the error and begin today to follow's
God's dietary laws.