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Are we forbidden to eat the meat of "unclean" animals?

The Bible is very clear that humans are not to eat the flesh of animals which God designates as “unclean.” Comprehensive lists of clean and unclean animals can be found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. When studying those lists, it is obvious that the following animals are “unclean” and that its flesh is inappropriate for human consumption (even though they might be frequently eaten in certain parts of the world, and even considered as “delicacies”): Pigs or swine; hares or rabbits; camels; horses; donkeys; lamas; civet cats; monkeys and apes; cats; dogs; ostriches (including their eggs); seagulls; swallows; whales; dolphins; sharks; catfish; eel; lobsters; crabs; clams; oysters; shrimp; shellfish; octopus; squid; frogs; snakes; lizards; turtles; mice and ants. This list is not exhaustive, of course, but it highlights certain “popular” unclean animals.

Some claim that the distinction between clean and unclean animals only came into existence at the time of Moses, and that it was strictly a temporary ritual law. However, the Bible is clear that the prohibition of the consumption of unclean animals is a health law, which was in force and effect long before Moses, and which is still in effect today.

There are many reasons, grounded in biological facts, that show why unclean food should not be eaten. But a true Christian should only need one reason why unclean food should not be eaten, and that is because God prohibits it. Those who say that Christ abolished the law condemning unclean food are not motivated by Scripture.

We read in Genesis 7:2, 8-9, that God differentiated between clean and unclean animals at the time of Noah, and Noah knew exactly which animals fell into what category. God told Noah to take into the ark seven males and females of every clean animal, but only two males and females of every unclean animal. And Noah knew which animals were clean and unclean.

Christ did not abolish the distinction between clean and unclean animals, or the prohibition for man to eat unclean animals. Some refer to Mark 7:18-19, stating that Christ made all animals clean and proper for consumption. However, the context of this passage is that the Pharisees criticized Christ’s disciples for eating food with “unwashed hands” (verse 2); that is, without washing their hands first “in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders” (verse 3). Christ said in verses 18-19: “… Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”

This passage does not teach, as some erroneously claim, that Christ made all foods clean. Rather, the word for “purifying” is “katharizo,” meaning “cleansing.” It is used in James 4:8, where sinners are told to cleanse their hands. The Authorized Version translates Mark 7:19 as, “… and goes out into the draught, PURGING all meats.”

Christ was addressing a situation where a little bit of dirt might have been attached to our hands or the CLEAN food. When we eat this, it does not defile us inwardly, as it is eliminated out of the body into the draught. The clean food will be “cleansed,” in that little particles of dirt will be eliminated out of the body. To use the passage in Mark 7 and say that Christ made all unclean animals clean is a willful and deliberate distortion of Scripture.

Others claim that Acts 10 teaches that God made all food clean. In that passage, Peter had a vision, seeing a great sheet of clean and unclean animals, and a voice asked him to eat. Peter refused and did not eat, although the voice told him that he should not call common what God had cleansed (verse 15). Subsequently, Peter went to the Gentiles, which were treated as common or unclean by the Jews, and baptized them. When confronted by the disciples, who were, at that time, exclusively of Jewish background and descent, Peter explained the meaning of the vision. It had nothing to do with declaring unclean animals as appropriate for human consumption. Rather, Peter said, in verse 28: “… God has shown me that I should not call any MAN common or unclean.” And so, the disciples recognized the purpose of the vision–it was to show the New Testament Church that God had “granted to the GENTILES repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).

Some, who refuse to obey God in all things, use additional passages to “prove” that we can eat today whatever dirty and rotten and slimy animals we want to devour. But Scripture does not support such teachings. In fact, the Bible is very clear that the returning Jesus Christ will PUNISH those who eat abominable unclean animals. We read God’s words in Isaiah 65:2-5:

“I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts; A people who provoke Me to anger continually to my face; Who sacrifice in gardens, And burn incense on altars of brick; Who sit among the graves, And spend the night in the tombs; WHO EAT SWINE’S FLESH, AND THE BROTH OF ABOMINABLE THINGS [margin: UNCLEAN MEATS] is in their vessels… these are smoke in My nostrils, A fire that burns all the day.”

Scripture continues to describe Christ’s return, and His judgment on those who refuse to obey Him, in Isaiah 66:15-17:

“For behold, the LORD will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword The LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many [compare 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10]. Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, To go to the gardens After an idol in the midst, EATING SWINE’S FLESH AND THE ABOMINATION AND THE MOUSE, Shall be CONSUMED TOGETHER,’ says the LORD.”

These passages would make no sense, if it would be perfectly acceptable in God’s eyes for man to consume unclean meat. But to assume this, is a tragic error. GOD COMMANDS MAN NOT to eat unclean meat. This prohibition was not just a temporary ritual law, but it is, and has always been, a health law, which must be obeyed today. God did NOT do away with this prohibition, and He does not take it lightly when people flagrantly disobey Him.

For additional information, please read pages 24-25 and 53 of our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound…”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link