What does Every moving thing mean in Genesis 9:3?


By BibleAsk Team

The biblical verse in Genesis 9:3, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you,” poses a profound theological and ethical question regarding the permissibility and limitations of human consumption of animals. While this statement appears to grant broad permission for the consumption of all living creatures, a closer examination reveals that certain restrictions apply, particularly concerning the distinction between clean and unclean animals. In this exploration, we delve into the significance of Genesis 9:3, its context within the narrative of Noah and the flood, and the implications for understanding dietary practices in biblical and contemporary contexts.

I. Contextual Background: “Every Moving Thing”

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Genesis 9:3).

After the flood, God for the first time authorized, or rather allowed, men to eat meat as food out of necessity. The wicked antediluvians did eat the meat of animals but it was not the original will of the Creator that His creatures should consume flesh. He had given man plants for food (Genesis 1:29).

But with the temporary destruction of all plant life during the flood and the exhaustion of the food supplies that were taken into the ark, an emergency arose that God met by giving permission to eat the flesh of animals.

This permission did not mean the unlimited eating of every kind of animals. The phrase, “moving thing that liveth,” clearly excludes the eating of carcasses of animals that had died or been killed by other beasts, which the Mosaic law later specifically forbade (Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 22:8).

The narrative of Genesis 9:3 unfolds within the broader context of God’s covenantal relationship with Noah and his descendants following the global flood. After the floodwaters recede, God reaffirms His covenant with Noah, granting him and his descendants dominion over the earth and permitting them to eat the flesh of animals (Genesis 9:1-3). This pronouncement marks a significant transition in human dietary practices and reflects God’s provision for the sustenance of humanity in a postdiluvian world.

The unchanging character of the Lord (James 1:17) excludes the possibility of making the verse in Genesis 9:3 a permission to kill and eat all creatures for food. Animals that were unclean for one purpose could not have been clean for another.

II. Distinction between Clean and Unclean Animals:

While Genesis 9:3 grants permission for the consumption of animals, it does not nullify the distinctions between clean and unclean animals established earlier in the narrative (Genesis 7:2-3). Noah’s awareness of these distinctions is evident in his obedience to God’s command to bring seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean animals into the ark (Genesis 7:2-3). The inclusion of clean animals suggests their special significance in the context of sacrificial worship and dietary practices.

III. Dietary Laws in Leviticus:

The distinction between clean and unclean animals becomes more explicit in the Mosaic Law, particularly in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus 11 provides a detailed list of clean and unclean animals, birds, and aquatic creatures, along with instructions regarding their consumption and avoidance (Leviticus 11:1-47). The rationale behind these dietary laws is for hygiene, health considerations and theological significance.

IV. Spiritual and Symbolic Interpretations:

Some scholars interpret the dietary laws of clean and unclean animals in Leviticus as having symbolic and spiritual significance, reflecting broader themes of holiness, purity, and separation. Clean animals, such as the ox and the lamb, are associated with sacrificial worship and ritual purity, whereas unclean animals, such as the pig and the vulture, are deemed unfit for consumption and represent moral impurity and defilement (Leviticus 11:2-8).

V. Contemporary Relevance:

The principles underlying the distinction between clean and unclean animals in biblical dietary laws continue to be applicable in the New Testament era for the stomach of the Jew is no different than the stomach of the Christian today. For more information, check: https://bibleask.org/are-unclean-animals-in-the-old-testament-still-unclean-today/

VI. Conclusion:

In conclusion, Genesis 9:3 offers profound insights into the dietary practices. The distinction between clean and unclean animals serves as a reminder of humanity’s role as being temples of the Holy Spirit and the need to take care of the physical bodies. Man is bound to live mentally, physically, and spiritually as God directs, to the glory of His name, and not to the gratification of fleshly desires (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).


  1. Genesis 9:1-3 (NKJV)
  2. Genesis 7:2-3 (NKJV)
  3. Leviticus 11:1-47 (NKJV)
  4. Proverbs 12:10 (NKJV)
  5. Mark 7:14-23 (NKJV)
  6. Mark 7:18-19 (NKJV)

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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