The Bible talks about clean and unclean animals, and tells people not to eat the meat of unclean animals. But does God really care what meats we eat?
Are there foods a Christian should not eat?
Yes, the Bible teaches there are meats that are designated as “unclean” (or unfit) for human consumption. These meats include pork, shellfish and the meat of other specific animals, sea creatures and birds. These laws are not ceremonial, but rather, they reveal God’s design of the animals and our digestive system.
To learn about these food laws, read this article and view our infographic listing “Clean and Unclean Meats.”
What does unclean mean?
Things that are called unclean (Hebrew tame) in the Old Testament are the opposite of things that are called clean, pure and holy. Uncleanness separated a person from being able to worship at the temple. The emphasis was not on dirt but on God’s definition of what is pure.
As the words clean and unclean relate to animals, God used these categories to show what animals He intended for sacrifices and to be eaten.
“Animals and foods were also divided into clean and unclean classes. The clean might be eaten; the unclean were forbidden . . . Only clean animals might be offered to God as sacrifices” (Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, 1991, p. 169).
The Bible relates following this law to being holy and being like God: “You shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). It doesn’t explain exactly why specific animals are listed as clean or unclean, but we can know that whatever God tells us to do is for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13).
God gives good things
As He was winding up His discourse in Matthew 7, Jesus Christ asked, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
Just as a physical father wants the best for his children—including giving them good things to eat—our Heavenly Father wants the best for us as well.
And just as our physical fathers taught us, God educates us on many aspects of living, and that includes which meats we can eat and those which He prohibits us from eating.
Does God care what animals I eat?
Yes—God created only certain animals for our consumption. Many others (such as pigs or oysters) were never intended to be food for human beings.
God defines clean and unclean animals
The meats God defines as clean and unclean are differentiated in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. God said, “These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth” (Leviticus 11:2).
This knowledge goes back much further, though, since Noah knew which animals were clean and unclean before the Flood. God told Noah to build an ark to save all the kinds of animals from the Flood. Then He said, “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” (Genesis 7:2). The extra clean animals could be used for food and for sacrifice to God, because only clean animals were to be sacrificed to God (Genesis 8:20).
What animals does the Bible say not to eat?
Simply stated, God explains that:
- Clean fish must have scales and fins. Bass, cod, flounder, grouper, salmon, snapper, trout and tuna all fit this category. Since catfish, lobsters, crabs, shrimp and many other water creatures do not have fins and scales, God says we should not eat them.
- Animals must have cloven (divided) hooves and chew the cud. These types of animals include antelope, cattle, goat, elk and deer. On the other hand, rabbits and pigs do not qualify as being clean and good to eat.
In Deuteronomy 14:11-18 we read that all clean birds may be eaten, but those we are not to eat include eagles, vultures, buzzards, falcons, ravens, ostriches, owls, seagulls, hawks, jackdaws (part of the crow family), storks and herons. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, quail and pheasants do not appear on this list of unclean birds and are considered clean—okay for us to eat.
Most insects are not good to eat, but God says some insects, such as locusts, grasshoppers and crickets, are okay to eat (Leviticus 11:22).
It is beyond the scope of this short explanation to enumerate every possible example of clean and unclean animals. Our infographic mentioned above gives more a more detailed listing.
God declares that He is holy and wants us to be holy.Some suggest that better quality feed for unclean animals and modern cooking methods remove the need to follow these dietary laws. But neither dynamic changes how God designed the animals—some fit for food and some not. And Scripture gives the most important reason to obey. Leviticus 11:43-44 tells us that we are made holy (set apart) by obeying these laws and are defiled by disobeying them.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares that His thoughts and His ways are different from ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Levitical priesthood was given the responsibility to teach the people the difference between “the holy and the unholy” and to help them “discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23).
God declares that He is holy and wants us to be holy (Leviticus 20:7) as His sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). John 1:12 and 20:17 and other scriptures also verify this concept. Our Father wants all of us to be like Him—holy and clean.
Every father wants what is best for his children, and God is no exception. We cannot remain clean if we eat things that are unclean.
God has given some detailed instructions regarding clean and unclean animals—the ones we are to eat and which ones we should avoid. He also leaves it to us to “discern between the unclean and the clean” when He does not explicitly mention every animal.
However, by examining their physical characteristics in light of God’s Word, we determine whether they are fit for humans to eat. King Solomon wrote, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2).
Because He loves us, God certainly does care what meats we eat, and we have His loving instructions and commandments to prove it. “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
For further study on this topic of unclean meats, read the related articles shown below.