Does the Bible prohibit eating a mixture of milk and meat?
It does not. However, there are some who believe and teach that certain Scriptures prohibit such a practice. They mainly turn to Exodus 23:19, which states: “The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
The identical prohibition is repeated in Exodus 34:26. We also find the following prohibition in Deuteronomy 14:21:
“You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
In commenting on Exodus 23:19, the Hebrew Soncino Commentary points out:
“Thou shalt not seethe a kid. In the term kid the calf and lamb are included since it denotes any young animal… The prohibition occurs three times… to signify that the eating, cooking and deriving any benefit whatever from a mixture of milk and meat are forbidden. Goats are rich in milk and it was customary among the surrounding nations to boil the young animal in its mother’s milk. The Torah considered this a gluttonous way of eating and so prohibited it. On the three festivals many animals were slaughtered; therefore the Torah took the opportunity of repeating the prohibition to express disapproval of the evil practice. The law applies not only to the meat of the kid, but to every mixture of milk and meat.”
Following this interpretation, orthodox Jews today don’t eat a mixture of milk and meat. We should realize, however, that the Scripture itself does not prohibit the consumption of meat and milk per se; it only refers to the boiling of a young goat in its MOTHER’S milk. We find, for instance, that Abraham served his three guests — the LORD and two angels — “butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ATE” (Genesis 18:8). Abraham, a man who obeyed God’s statutes, obviously did not think that there was a prohibition against eating a mixture of milk and meat, and God and His angels did not choose to “reveal” to him such a prohibition, as it did not exist.
Others have suggested that this command prohibits boiling and eating an UNWEANED kid. In this case, the Hebrew preposition would have to be translated “on” instead of “in” the mother’s milk. This interpretation is incorrect. The verbatim translation of the Hebrew is: “You shall not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.” The key is the phrase, “in the milk of ITS mother,” or, “in ITS mother’s milk,” referring to the relationship between the kid and ITS mother — not just any mother.
Some have claimed that Exodus 23:19 may refer to an incorrect practice of proper tithing. The Israelites counted animals as they went under the rod, and to remove a young goat for food would mean that incorrect tithing was taking place, that is, tithing on reduced numbers.
Most commentaries agree, however, that the command against seething or boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was given because of pagan worship practices that Israel was prohibited from adopting (Deuteronomy 12:28-32). We should note that the command in Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 is clearly given in the context of God’s annual Holy Days. The Ryrie Study Bible points out:
“Leaven was a symbol of corruption and evil (cf. Matt. 16:6). Boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was a common Canaanite ritual involving magic spells.”
The Nelson Study Bible adds, in discussing Exodus 23:19:
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk is a command that forbade the Israelites to imitate the cruel sacrifices of their pagan neighbors.”
Regarding Deut.14:21, the commentary includes these additional statements: “Unlike the Canaanites who boiled young goats alive in the milk of their mothers as a sacrifice to fertility gods, Israel was to practice a more humane method of animal sacrifice. Israel was to be different from its neighbors — that is, holy.”
The New Bible Commentary: Revised, agrees with that understanding and adds, in regard to Exodus 23:19: “The firstfruits are to be offered to God, for He gave them. The heathen practice referred to in 19b [i.e., verse 19, second sentence] was a vain attempt to increase fertility and productivity by magical arts.” The following comment was added regarding Deut. 14:21: “This unnatural custom was practiced superstitiously by the Canaanites, perhaps to promote fecundity.”
Matthew Henry’s Commentary points out, on page 98, that the Israelites “must not think to receive benefit by that superstitious usage of some of the Gentiles, who, it is said, at the end of their harvest, seethed a kid in the dam’s milk, and sprinkled that milk-potage, in a magical way, upon their gardens and fields, to make them more fruitful next year.”
The same is expressed, in effect, by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, and by Peake’s Commentary.
A very insightful explanation can also be found in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 412, as follows:
“The interpretation of this rather strange prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk illustrates the manner in which archeological discovery illuminated Ancient Near Eastern cultural practices… Following the discovery and interpretation of the Ras Shamra literature, dating to approximately the fourteenth century B.C., this verse quite often has been interpreted as the prohibition of the Canaanite ritual in which a kid was boiled in its mother’s milk: ‘Over the fire seven times the sacrificers cook a kid in milk… [and] mint… in butter and over the cauldron seven times fresh water… is poured.'”
The commentary adds the following statements in vol. 2, on page 244, discussing Deut. 14:21: “The prohibition on boiling a kid in its mother’s milk has long been a riddle for the interpreter. It occurs in Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 as well. Ugaritic texts have revealed a proscribed ritual of this kind related to ‘milk magic.’ This law, like the others, prohibits Israel’s participation in rites of the heathen.”
From the foregoing, we can see that the practice of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was associated with fertility rites, magic and pagan sacrifices, apparently associated with the belief that through magic and the intervention of demonic gods, the next harvest would be bountiful. God was clear that such pagan customs were not to be followed, pointing out, instead, how He was to be worshipped. This connection can be clearly seen in Exodus 23:18-19 and 34:25-26, where God speaks of His sacrifice (in Ex. 34:25, the sacrifice is identified as the Passover Sacrifice), the bringing of the “first of the firstfruits” into the house of God, and the command against boiling of a young goat in its mother’s milk. The connection in Deuteronomy 14:21 might not be all that obvious, as the previous verses discuss the prohibition of eating unclean meat. However, the very next verse (verse 22) begins to state God’s instructions regarding tithing principles related to God’s annual Festival of the Feast of Tabernacles.
In any event, we can safely say that the Bible does not prohibit the consumption of a mixture of milk and meat, EXCEPT that we should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, as the Scriptures clearly say. This unusual custom is still practiced in some parts of the world today. James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 8, p. 635, relates the following in this context: “Among the Arabs flesh seethed in milk is still a common dish, yet the Hebrews were prohibited from boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.” Hastings also explains how milk, all by itself, played an important role in superstitious pagan sacrifices. On page 634, it is even stated: “In the Christian Church it [milk] was substituted for wine in the elements of the communion. This was afterwards prohibited by canon law…, but it may be surmised that it originated as one of the surviving rites of ancient pagan religion.”
“Boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk” was clearly, then, a pagan practice to worship pagan gods, and it was therefore prohibited by God. We should take the Scripture for what it says, rather than adding to its meaning by prohibiting the consumption of a mixture of milk and meat (except for the boiling and subsequently eating a young goat boiled in its mother’s milk).