What’s the big deal about eating unclean meats?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Eating Unclean Meats

The dietary laws outlined in the Old Testament (OT) of the Bible, particularly in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, include prohibitions against consuming unclean meats. These dietary restrictions serve not only as guidelines for physical health but also as expressions of spiritual purity and obedience to God’s commands. In this exploration, we will delve into the reasons why we should refrain from eating unclean meats, drawing upon key passages from the Bible to elucidate their significance and implications.

Health Considerations

One of the primary reasons for the dietary laws regarding clean and unclean meats is related to health considerations. While the scientific understanding of hygiene and food safety was not fully developed in ancient times, many of the dietary restrictions outlined in the OT have significant health benefits that align with modern scientific knowledge.

  • Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 provide lists of animals that are considered clean and unclean for consumption. Among the animals listed as unclean are those known to carry diseases, parasites, or toxins that can be harmful to human health. For example, creatures such as pigs, shellfish, and certain birds of prey are prone to transmitting diseases such as trichinosis, salmonella, and various parasites.
  • Scientific research has corroborated the health risks associated with consuming certain types of unclean meats. For instance, pork products have been linked to an increased risk of various health conditions, including Trichinosis, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. Similarly, shellfish are known to accumulate toxins such as mercury and harmful bacteria, posing risks to human health if consumed.
  • By adhering to the dietary laws regarding clean meats and avoiding unclean meats, individuals can mitigate the risks of foodborne illnesses, infections, and chronic health conditions. The principle of dietary hygiene and food safety underscored in the OT aligns with modern principles of public health and nutrition.

Holiness and Spiritual Purity

In addition to health considerations, the dietary laws in the OT also serve as expressions of holiness and spiritual purity. God instructed the Israelites to observe these dietary restrictions as part of their covenant relationship with Him, emphasizing the importance of obedience and reverence.

  • Leviticus 11:44-45 emphasizes the connection between dietary practices and holiness: “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.” (Leviticus 11:44-45 NKJV). This passage underscores the link between dietary obedience and spiritual purity, emphasizing the need for holiness in every aspect of life.
  • The dietary laws served as a symbolic reminder of Israel’s distinctiveness as God’s chosen people and their commitment to obeying His commandments. By abstaining from unclean meats, the Israelites demonstrated their allegiance to God and their desire to honor His instructions.

The Temple of God

In both the OT and the New Testament (NT), the human body is often metaphorically referred to as the temple of God, emphasizing the importance of maintaining physical and spiritual purity. Just as the Israelites were instructed to keep the tabernacle and later the temple free from defilement, believers are called to honor God with their bodies and abstain from practices that compromise their health and well-being.

  • In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the apostle Paul admonishes believers to treat their bodies with reverence and respect: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV). This passage emphasizes the sacredness of the body as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and calls believers to honor God through their physical health and purity.
  • The principle of honoring God with one’s body extends to dietary practices, as what we consume can impact our physical health and spiritual vitality. By adhering to biblical guidelines regarding clean and unclean meats, believers demonstrate their commitment to honoring God with their bodies and upholding the principles of holiness and purity. The ancient Israelites were assured that God would preserve them in health if they would obey His instructions (Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 7:12–15). This He will do for His people today if they will follow His counsel and take into their bodies only those things that are in harmony with His laws.
  • 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.

Continuity of Dietary Laws in the NT

Some argue that the dietary laws outlined in the OT were superseded or abolished in the NT, particularly in light of Jesus’ teachings and the apostolic writings. However, there is evidence to suggest that the principles of dietary hygiene and spiritual purity remain relevant for believers in the NT era. Also the dietery laws of clean and unclean animals preceded the Jewish nation. It was given to Noah. “The Lord said to Noah, … ‘take with you seven each of every clean animal … two each of animals that are unclean’ ” (Genesis 7:1, 2).

  • In Matthew 15:11, Jesus affirms the principle that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, but what comes out of the mouth defiles them. However, this statement does not negate the importance of dietary considerations for health and holiness. Rather, Jesus emphasizes the significance of internal purity and righteousness over external rituals.
  • Acts 10 records Peter’s vision of a sheet containing various animals, including those considered unclean according to Jewish dietary laws. While the vision is often interpreted as symbolizing the inclusion of Gentiles in the gospel message, it does not explicitly revoke the dietary laws. Instead, it underscores the broader scope of God’s redemptive plan and the abolition of ethnic barriers, while leaving room for cultural and contextual variations in dietary practices.
  • Paul’s writings in the NT affirm the principles of self-discipline, temperance, and holiness in all aspects of life, including dietary practices. While believers are no longer under the strict dietary regulations of the Mosaic law, they are called to exercise discernment and moderation in their eating habits, avoiding anything that compromises their physical health or spiritual well-being. Paul admonishes the believers, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Christians must learn to avoid the unclean meats that will injure their bodies and choose the good clean meats that will promote health, both mental and physical.
  • The death of Christ did not in any way change these health laws, since the Bible says that all who break them will be destroyed when Jesus returns (Isaiah 66:15–17). The Jew’s digestive system does not defer from the Gentile’s digestive system. These health laws are for all people for all time.


In conclusion, the reasons for refraining from eating unclean meats, as outlined in the Bible, encompass both health considerations and spiritual principles of holiness and reverence for God. The dietary laws serve as a holistic framework for promoting physical health, maintaining spiritual purity, and honoring God with our bodies. The dietary regulations of the OT apply in the same manner in the NT era. By embracing these principles, believers can cultivate a lifestyle of holistic well-being and spiritual vitality, honoring God with their bodies and upholding the values of health and holiness.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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