Are unclean animals still unclean today?

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By BibleAsk Team


The debate about whether the dietary laws regarding unclean animals still apply today is a significant topic within Christian theology. This essay argues that unclean animals are still unclean today, emphasizing that these dietary laws were intended for all people at all times. It also clarifies that Peter’s vision in Acts 10 was meant to abolish the view of Gentiles as unclean, rather than abolishing dietary laws.

The Origin of Dietary Laws

Introduction to Clean and Unclean Animals. The concept of clean and unclean animals originates from the Old Testament, specifically within the Mosaic Law. These laws were given to the Israelites as a guide for holiness and purity.

  • Leviticus 11:1-8 (NKJV): “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, “These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat. Nevertheless, these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.”‘

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, God points the clean and unclean animals. These chapters show that most animals, birds, and water creatures that people ordinarily eat are clean. But there are some very clear exceptions.

Purpose of Dietary Laws. The dietary laws served several purposes, including health, hygiene, and ceremonial purity.

  • Leviticus 11:44-45 (NKJV): “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
The call to holiness was central to Gods People’s identity and relationship with God.

    The Continuity of Dietary Laws

    Dietary Laws Given Before Moses. Even before the Mosaic Law, there was an understanding of clean and unclean animals, indicating that these distinctions have a more universal application and not given only to Jews. The argument that dietary laws are intended for all people at all times is supported by the universal principles of health and holiness inherent in these laws. The physical constitution of Jews is not different from that of Gentiles; thus, the health benefits of these laws apply universally.

    • Genesis 7:2 (NKJV): “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female.”

    Holiness and Obedience. The call to holiness and obedience to God’s commandments is not limited to the Israelites but extends to all who seek to follow God.

    • Deuteronomy 14:2-3 (NKJV): “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. You shall not eat any detestable thing.”
    The call to be a holy people involves adherence to God’s dietary laws, which were given to promote health and holiness.

      Peter’s Vision in Acts 10

      Understanding Peter’s Vision. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is often cited as evidence that the dietary laws have been abolished. However, a closer examination of the context and Peter’s own interpretation of the vision reveals that it was about the inclusion of Gentiles, not the abolition of dietary laws.

      • Acts 10:9-16 (NKJV): “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”

      • Acts 10:28 (NKJV): “Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.'”
      Peter himself explains that the vision was about not calling any man unclean, indicating that the vision was about human relations, not dietary laws.

      Peter’s Consistency in Observing Dietary Laws. Even after the vision, Peter continued to observe dietary laws, which further supports the idea that the vision did not abolish these laws.

      • Acts 11:8 (NKJV): “But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’”
      Peter’s adherence to the dietary laws indicates his understanding that these laws were still in effect.

        The Apostolic Decree

        The Apostolic Decree in Acts 15. The Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 addressed the issue of Gentile believers and the Mosaic Law. While the decree did not impose the full burden of the law on Gentiles, it did include certain dietary restrictions.

        • Acts 15:19-20 (NKJV): “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”
        The inclusion of dietary restrictions indicates the continued relevance of certain aspects of the Mosaic Law for Gentile believers.

        Gentiles and the Law. The dietary laws were seen as part of the broader moral and ethical standards that Gentile believers were expected to follow.

        • Acts 15:28-29 (NKJV): “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
        This decree suggests that while Gentiles were not required to follow the entire Mosaic Law, certain dietary laws remained important.

          Health Considerations

          Health Benefits of Dietary Laws. The dietary laws have intrinsic health benefits that apply universally, regardless of cultural or religious background. These laws promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent the consumption of animals that are more likely to carry diseases.

          • Deuteronomy 14:8 (NKJV): “Also the swine is unclean for you, because it has cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud; you shall not eat their flesh or touch their dead carcasses.”
          The prohibition of consuming swine, for example, can be understood as a measure to prevent diseases associated with pork.

            Continuity and Consistency in Scripture

            Scriptural Consistency. The consistency of dietary laws throughout the Old and New Testaments supports the argument for their continued relevance. The distinction between clean and unclean animals is reiterated multiple times, emphasizing its importance.

            • Leviticus 20:25 (NKJV): “You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.”
            This consistency suggests that these laws were intended to be enduring.

            Holiness and Obedience. The call to holiness and obedience to God’s commandments is a timeless principle that applies to all who seek to follow God.

            • 1 Peter 1:15-16 (NKJV): “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'”
            Observing dietary laws is part of living a holy life in obedience to God’s commands.

            The death of Christ had no altering effect whatever on the health laws of the Old Testament. God gave us the health laws because He knows what is best for the human body. These health laws are like a wall to keep out the diseases of Satan away. And the Christian’s first motive in living in harmony with God’s health laws should be to honor God. The Bible teaches, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

            The Bible says, “Eat ye that which is good” (Isaiah 55:2). If God says a thing is not fit to eat, He must have a good reason because He created it. He is not an unreasonable Father, but a loving One. The Bible promises: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalms 84:11). So, if God withholds an unclean creature from us, it is because it is not healthy for us to eat.

              Conclusion

              The argument that unclean animals are still unclean today is grounded in the continuity of scriptural principles and the intrinsic health benefits of dietary laws. The dietary laws given in the Old Testament were not limited to the Israelites but were intended for all people at all times. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 was specifically about the inclusion of Gentiles and not the abolition of dietary laws. The Apostolic Decree further supports the continued relevance of certain dietary restrictions for Gentile believers.

              The New Testament teachings, including those of Jesus and the apostles, emphasize inner purity and spiritual holiness but do not abolish the dietary laws. Instead, they provide a broader understanding of these laws in the context of the New Covenant. Observing dietary laws can be seen as part of living a holy and obedient life, reflecting a commitment to God’s commandments and ethical principles.

              By adhering to these dietary laws, believers can promote health and honor God with their bodies. The universal principles of health and holiness inherent in these laws suggest that they remain relevant for all people today.

              Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics. 

              In His service,
              BibleAsk Team

              Categories Law

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