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Clean and Unclean Meat

(Are they for today?)


          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 clean is ṭâhôr and 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.

          If 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 the Pharisees)


          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 "own 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.

         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)


         In Acts 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?)


          1 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 here.  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 for food.


          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 follow 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.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV