Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!
What about Clean and Unclean Meats
by Tony Warren
s it biblical for Christians to eat meats like crab, pork, shrimp or lobster, which are described in the Old Testament as unclean? This is a question that often weighs heavily on the minds of some people because of the prohibitions that are found in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Actually, the first reference that God made concerning clean and unclean animals was not in the law that God gave Moses on the mountain, but was when God instructed Noah on their separation in Genesis.
God commanded Noah to make a distinction between clean and unclean animals, and it was for the same reason God gave the law prohibiting the eating of unclean animals. It is revealed to us in His declaration that the clean animals were to be used by Noah to make sacrifice to God. By their exclusion, the unclean animals were deemed unworthy to be "representative" of the atonement offering unto God.
- "And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.
- Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female."
Every animal sacrifice that the people were to make unto the Lord was a representation prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. The distinction that God appointed was to illustrate the clean animals were to be used to "foreshadow" Christ in their sacrifice. Clean represented the holiness of the atonement, contrasting the unclean animals that represented unholiness. One group of animals appointed sanctified unto service for God, and the other group separated from them and deemed unholy or unclean. In the Lord making this distinction in Noah's day, we get a better picture of the true purpose of this separation. It was never never stated or implied that it was for dietary reasons, it was for instituted for the reason of representing that which was holy and unholy.
This truth was underscored more plainly when God gave Moses the ceremonial law. In Leviticus chapter 11 and Deuteronomy chapter 14, God inspires written these very same separation principles, which He had "already" established with Noah. Indeed, in the harmonious arrangement of the Scriptures, the agreement on all points reveal what is commonly called, "the continuity of the covenant" relationship. The ceremonial law of meats that was given to Moses was meant as an example of the separation of Israel from what is called the Gentile or unclean nations. By God requiring that His people make a distinction between clean and unclean animals or meats, He is illustrating how His people are to be holy and set apart from the unclean people of the world. The very same separation principle that God illustrated to Noah in the figure of using the clean animals for the atonement sacrifice. In Leviticus, following the list of meats that "His people" could and could not eat, verse 44 concludes that it was because He was LORD God that they shall therefore sanctify themselves.
- "And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar."
It was to consecrate or declare them sacred. The clean and unclean animals were separated because God wants His people separated or set apart from the unholy nations around them for service to Him. Note that God never makes any claims regarding reasons of proper diet or health. We cannot arbitrarily make suppositions about the reasons for this separation without Biblical validation. The Bible is its own interpreter, and so the God inspired text itself will provides us the reason for these laws. They were instituted to signify ceremonial cleanliness illustrating there was a difference between God's covenanted or people of promise, and the rest of the world.
- "For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
- For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
- This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:
- To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten."
There is no question that the reason for this animal separation of clean and unclean was because God had separated them from the unholy nations that were around them. It was not because of any assumption that some meats or shellfish was bad for our health. God has never declared nor implied this popular theory.
- "But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people.
- Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.
- And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine."
In other words, the meat is unclean to God's people, however they could sell it to the Gentiles. Obviously, God being righteous is not telling them to sell something deadly or hurtful to the Gentiles, thus it was not deadly nor harmful. Our God is a perfect righteous God and does not make laws to harm the Gentiles. The Israelites were not forbidden to eat this because it was harmful to their bodies, but because of reasons of ceremonial cleanliness. It is clear the theory that these laws were designed for health reasons is without sound "Biblical" validation. On the contrary, by God telling them it was fine to give these meats to the Gentiles, He is illustrating that these meats are not necessarily physically harmful, but that they violated the ceremonial law. The laws designated clean and unclean only as a token or sign of their "distinctiveness" as a covenant people, set apart for the service of God.
- "Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk."
From Scripture we can begin to understand that these rules and regulations concerning clean and unclean meats were imposed in order to present the "figure" of distinction, until the time of the later dispensation (Galatians 3:23-26), when the fulfillment in Christ established the reality of what these separation regulations foreshadowed.
There are those who claim that it is their Biblical responsibility to keep these ceremonial laws concerning meats just as the Old Testament saints did, but is there any Biblical basis for observing Old Testament ceremonial laws? Is there any Biblical basis for making the same separations between meats today? The question is answered as we carefully examine the New Testament revelation of the mystery that these laws foreshadowed. As we saw, there was a spiritual typology of clean and unclean meats as types of people, but this was never a law God instituted to keep our bodies in good health. They were ritual or ceremonial in nature, a set form of conduct that illustrated God's sanctification of His people. Moreover, you will note that you don't hear people who insist on following these laws, decrying why the Lord's people will plant two different kinds of seeds in a field. Or of God's people breeding two different types of cattle, or God's law that we cannot mix two types of thread in a cloth (Leviticus 19:19). These were the same "separation principle" ceremonial laws as the separation of clean and unclean meats, so why not the same consistent application? These laws were fulfilled in God reconciling the "whole world" to Himself in the death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed from the New Testament perspective on eating clean and unclean meats, it should be evident that the laws were ceremonial representing separation of God's people from the Gentiles. With the New Testament dispensation and reconciliation of all in Christ, that ceremonial ordinance has been fulfilled, just as the animal sacrifices and passover.
The fact is, the Apostle Peter was very "literally commanded to rise and eat unclean meats" by God Himself. Would God command His disciple to violate a law that he was still obligated to observe? The answer should be obvious. Those who continue to protest the eating of these meats that were deemed unclean in the Old Testament do not understand the true significance. Even as Peter himself at first did not understand how he could violate the ceremonial law. He protested the command saying he had never done so, because he did not yet understand the true nature of the ceremonial laws concerning them, nor the vision of God wherein it was now fulfilled and the wall of separation between the physical Jew and Gentile was now over. He revealed that these unclean meats were an example or figure of separation from the Gentile peoples, whom Christ had now cleansed.
Though the proponents of Old Covenant law observances joy in splitting hairs and rationalizing away God's Word of these meats and present acceptance, quite clearly God commands Peter to eat what Old Testament Israel understands are unclean meats. Moreover, God warns the Apostle not to call these meats which God has cleansed, uncommon or unclean. It really cannot get much clearer than that. We know unequivocally that God doesn't violate His laws nor command His apostles to transgress them. Therefore, His command for Peter to eat what he thought were unclean animals, means that these were cleansed by God and no longer unclean. We see that with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant with Israel, the ceremonial unclean meats that represented them, could now be eaten.
- "On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
- And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
- And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
- Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
- And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
- But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
- And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
- This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven."
It was revealed to the apostle Peter that now the separation from the Gentiles that these unclean meats signified is over (Ephesians 2:11-19). They have been joined together as one body in Christ Jesus, that these unclean meats that once signified the separation, was now permitted to be eaten signifying their communion in Christ. They can now lawfully keep company with the Gentiles.
- "And he said unto them, 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."
God would not command Peter to eat unclean meats in direct violation of His own law "if" it were indeed were a violation of His law. It quite obviously was not, because the ceremonial law that prefigured the work of Christ was fulfilled. The law of commandments contained in ordinances such as those forbidding the eating unclean meats, were abolished in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:15), making the clean and the unclean, one body cleansed in Him. That is why Peter could now say what He did about the Gentiles. The Lord had cleansed the Gentiles and made clean that which was common or unclean.
- "Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
- Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
- But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."
By the gospel now being proclaimed to the Gentiles nations, the wall between Jew and Gentile has been taken down, thus all unclean meats are made clean as long as they are received with thanksgiving. Would the Apostle Peter understand that the Gentiles were now clean if Christ did not signify unclean animals clean in this vision? This is the whole point God is illustrating by these meats being made clean. He is explaining the significance of the Old Testament ordinances. If the four-footed beasts all remained unclean, the Gentiles, which "they signified," would also remain unclean. That's how Peter understood the revelation, understanding these meats signified the separation principle. He discerned that God would no longer separate Jew from Gentile, and that they would now be one people cleansed in Him. The ceremonial laws of separation were abolished in the flesh of Christ in the New Testament dispensation. As Peter said He now perceived, there is no respect of persons with God, for he has made clean what was called common (unclean). In this is revealed that those laws of unclean beasts were indeed a figure of the previous separation.
All through Scripture there is the emphasis upon the division between the holy and the unholy people as the reason God instituted all these laws of division. In making these Gentiles clean who were unclean, God is making known the mystery kept secret (Romans 16:25) since the world began. The Gentiles would now be included, grafted into the New Covenant olive tree of Israel. Moreover, to place proper emphasis upon this, God has Peter witness to the Jews of this. As he spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon them wherein they spoke in other languages, which again was a "sign" signifying that all tongues (languages) have been brought into God's covenant and made clean. That the Jewish people would not call that common, which the Lord has cleansed. Nor should we command the church today to abstain from (so-called) unclean meats, with the weak justification of Old Testament ceremonial laws.
- "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."
1st Timothy 4:1-5
The purpose of these Old Testament ordinances, regulations and ceremonies regarding meats should be understood in the "illuminating light" of the whole bible. As is often quoted, "the Old Testament concealed is the New Testament revealed." In other words, in the revelation of the New Testament, the Old can be better understood and appreciated. God did not really destroy the law, He fulfilled it in that He satisfied the law in His death. In that sense, it is abolished or brought to an end in that it no longer condemns us. Yet the wicked still have to answer to the law and the righteous are moved to seek to be obedient to it.
- "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
- Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
- Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
- For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
- For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
In the New Testament dispensation the outward form or figure of the law has been satisfied, fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ. By His death, the system of ordinances, which were a figure of the separation of Jewish nation from the heathen nations, was brought to completion. Just as the practice of spilling blood and of animal sacrifices, the temple furniture arrangements and other sundry ordinances. They were all satisfied in Christ and are no longer physically observed.
- "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
The coming of Christ fulfilled these ordinances which were imposed on the Old Testament saints until the time of restoration in Christ. That Greek word translated reformation is [diorthosis], meaning to set straight, or by extension to set things right. Much like John the Baptist came to make the crooked paths straight. These separation ordinances regarding animals were imposed on Israel until the time that Christ came to replace the figure with the true. These were ceremonial ordinances that were but a "shadow" pointing to their true significance. In Christ the basic requirement of holy separation from the unclean world is still validated, but in the true spiritual realities rather than these ceremonial observances. The spiritual reality of God's people being separated from the unclean world remains, but the ceremonial ordinances prefiguring the separation of Israel from the Gentiles do not. In the New Testament reformation, believers are now coming into Israel from the Gentile nations. Thus the children of God are not to be separated from Gentiles, but now the prohibition is to not be yoked together with unbelievers, which in reality the original prohibition signified in the first place.
- "Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
- Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
- But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;"
2nd Corinthians 6:14-18
God's people are still not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, but the Gentile nations are no longer the representation of unbelievers or the unholy. In this reformation, the separation principle is revealed in its true form to be a covenanted people, rather than ethnic or a physical genealogy. In the revelation of the covenant or promise to Gentiles, the children of God are cleansed and the unclean made holy.
- "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
- And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
- And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
- Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
- And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
2nd Corinthians 7:1
The cleansing from all uncleanness was never in the flesh or in meats, but in the Spirit. All things are lawful to the believer, so the separation principle is therefore a law confirmed forever in Christ, rather than ceremony. In the New Testament dispensation it is no longer kept in the figure of ordinances as Israel kept them. The true intent and purpose of these laws are revealed in the Scriptures to be Spiritual in nature.
- "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
1st Corinthians 10:23-31
We need not have our conscience bother us because we eat pork or shellfish. All things are lawful for us to eat, but all things are not necessarily expedient. In other words, if it offends my brother to see me eat pork, maybe I should not eat pork around him, for his sake. We should always take into consideration the weaker brothers and sisters whom this might offend. There are also those who confess this may be true, but they ask about doing it for good health reasons? My advise would be, if a Christian feels that eating certain meats are a health risk to them, there is nothing in scripture that forces them to eat such means just because it's not forbidden. Remember, whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.
- "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
- Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
- For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.
- If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
- But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:
- Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
- For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
- Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
As previously stated, there is nothing in the scripture that declares that the intent for these laws concerning meats were salutary. For one thing, the prohibited meats are not "necessarily" injurious to our health. Moreover, if that were indeed the intent of these laws, would there not also be sanctions against the consumption of other injurious meats, vegetables and plants? Obviously many of them are noxious and not salutary as well. Moreover, such an understanding would make nonsensical Paul's epistle stating that no meat was unclean of itself. In other words, it's not the meat that is unclean and defiles the one who eats it, it's what the person eating it esteems or regards it to represent. If your conscience bothers you, then don't eat these meats, that your conscience will be clear. Likewise, do not condemn those who understand that they may lawfully eat these meats.
- "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
We are not under the Old Testament regulations concerning meats, but are under grace that there is nothing unclean of itself. If I eat ham or pork, I am not unclean for seven days, nor am I cut off from my people or God. The Gospel is not a book of law concerning unhealthy eating, it's A book of laws concerning our spiritual health. Christ addressed this topic of eating things that might be unhealthy for us when the Scribes and Pharisees protested eating without washing our hands. Christ illustrated that unclean hands were not the important things, it was an unclean heart that was truly important to God. The distinction between clean and unclean meats represented that separation between those with unclean hearts, and those who had a heart made clean in the atonement sacrifice of Christ. It was a token of the division between believer and unbeliever, the defiled and the undefiled.
- "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
- I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
- But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
- Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
- For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
- For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men."
- "Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
- Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread."
- "And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
- Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man."
- "And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
- Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?"
Clearly Christ is teaching that it is not injurious products (germs because you didn't wash, ceremonial meat, ham, Lobster) that we might put into our mouths that will ultimately defile us, it is falsehoods and doctrines coming out of our mouth that will make us unclean. The laws concerning unclean animals were never instituted for good physical heath, but for our good spiritual health. They were to teach that there is a difference between the people of God who are clean before Him, and unbelievers who are deemed unclean. That this separation is necessary for keeping God's people a separated and holy people. The words clean and unclean are to be understood as purity and defilement in a spiritual, rather than physical sense. Peter having been raised in the Judaic traditions did not understand this at first, but as in Matthew 15:1-2, Christ further explained to him exactly what He was speaking about.
First, Christ wouldn't say that anything that someone puts into their mouth "cannot" defile them if what someone put into their mouth could defile them. We know that Christ would not say something that was not true. Thus, we know unequivocally that it is true. That's the starting point. If we knew something was poisonous and going to harm us, and we deliberately ate it, that would be a different matter. We would then be in violation of other rules and laws. Old Testament ceremonially unclean meats clearly cannot harm us.
Second, Christ says these foods don't enter into a man's heart (again signifying laws concerning eating were for ceremonial cleanliness), they enter into a man's belly and go out into the draught (toilet). That is the way the body purges meats from the body, and this word translated purging is [katharizo], meaning to make clean, or to purify.
Whatever they ate, entering in through the mouth, went into their stomach, and ultimately it is cast out into the toilet. This is not what was really at the heart of the law against eating unclean meats anymore than eating with dirt on your hands. It was a man's spiritual condition that God was protecting. The uncleanness within a man defiles him, not the types or different meats that he eats. By understanding this, we can see that it is lawful to eat meats like pork and shellfish, but it's not mandatory. Whosoever doesn't want to eat such meats, is free not to eat. Just as those who eat in thanksgiving to the Lord, are free to eat. This principle is also illustrated in Romans showing how we should not force our liberty to eat such meats on others who may not choose to eat it, thinking it's harmful.
- "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
- And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
- Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
- But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
- For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
- These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
The conclusion of the matter is this. There are no meats that are unto themselves unclean to us today. The Old Testament ceremonial laws concerning meats were a figure that ended with the coming of Christ, who broke down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. Clearly, the separation principles in the law of Mosses, such as separating clean and unclean meats, prohibitions against mixing different seeds in a field, the precept against the unequal yoking of animals together, or the law against mixing different types of thread in a cloth, were "all" for the purpose of illustrating that God has separated a people to be holy unto Himself. The Scriptures have never declared that those meat regulations were established for health reasons, anymore than the regulations against mixing threads were established for dress code reasons. They were established to "signify" separation. You don't see those insisting on the law of meats also insisting that our clothing not have two different types of thread, even though that's just as much an Old Testament ceremonial law as the one concerning diverse meats. They were "all" ritual and ceremonial and we cannot righteously preach that they were not, or that they should still be observed when Christ fulfilled them. It is in the continuity of God's New Covenant law that the separation continues today in Christ. Not in Old Testament ceremonial laws, but in the true separation of the holy from the unholy.
Unfortunately, there are those professing Christians today who seem to be hell bent on compromising these separation principles, mixing the unclean with the clean, seemingly oblivious to the consequences. Not unclean meats, but unclean people. Believers are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, but in our day this seems to have become normative. Believers marrying unbelievers, churches compromising with other religions, all the things that the law concerning meats really signified about God's people are being abrogated. This is the true travesty, not that Christians will eat unclean meats. It is sad to see Christians who were once a People set apart from the unbelievers, now at one with unbelievers. These laws of Christ are revealed through His dwelling within us, that we will and do of His good pleasure. The separation principle we must keep in Christ, that we forever remain a people consecrated, sanctified, made holy, set apart from the world, in service to God.
May the Lord who is gracious above all give us the wisdom to receive His truths concerning our sanctification and separation, because greater is He that is in us (1st John 4:4), than he that is in the world.
- "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
- For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
- Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
- Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
- One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
- He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks."
Copyright ©2004 Tony Warren
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