Clean and Unclean Meats: Does God's Word Draw a Distinction?

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Does God's Word Draw a Distinction?

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Clean and Unclean Meats: Does God's Word Draw a Distinction?

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God gave all of His laws for good reasons. They teach us His standards—how to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, beneficial from harmful. They teach us to distinguish the holy—that which God sets apart—from the common and ordinary. They define the way we, too, are to be holy, set apart for God’s purposes.

As we apply the biblical laws in our lives, they encourage us to think differently, to think more like God. They alter our perceptions. For example, keeping God’s Sabbath days changes the way we think about and use our time. His laws of tithing, concerning portions of our income, alter our perception and use of our physical resources.

In the same way, God’s laws concerning meats that are appropriate or inappropriate for human consumption—referred to as “clean” and “unclean” in the Scriptures—change our perspective regarding many things we eat.

God expects spiritual leaders to teach His people to distinguish between biblically right and wrong behavior. He says, through the prophet Ezekiel: “They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23 Ezekiel 44:23And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

Even though some of God’s laws may appear unusual on the surface, and we may not immediately grasp their full purpose, they help us to avoid physical troubles and, more importantly, moral and spiritual infection. The Word of God provides a pattern for physically, spiritually and morally healthy living. God gives His principles of health and cleanliness for our good, in this life as well as the one to come (1 Timothy 4:8 1 Timothy 4:8For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
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).

One reason for our existence is to learn to base our lives on the words of God (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
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; Luke 4:4 Luke 4:4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
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; Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
American King James Version×
). God’s Word —the Bible—encompasses all aspects of our lives, including what we eat. Often people don’t realize that God made distinctions that reveal which meats are appropriate for human beings to eat. Some believe these distinctions no longer apply. But, rather than relying on human opinion, let’s consider these matters in the light of the Bible.

Popular ideas about distinctions

Since many people enjoy eating pork (ham, bacon, sausage, etc.) and experience no immediate adverse effects, some have looked for scientific reasons that God may have had in mind when He told the ancient Israelites not to eat pork (Leviticus 11:7 Leviticus 11:7And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he chews not the cud; he is unclean to you.
American King James Version×
; Deuteronomy 14:8 Deuteronomy 14:8And the swine, because it divides the hoof, yet chews not the cud, it is unclean to you: you shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass.
American King James Version×
). One theory is that God forbade the eating of pork so that the Israelites would not catch certain diseases, such as trichinosis, that pigs can carry. After all, the Israelites did not own refrigerators, and researchers had not yet warned people to thoroughly cook pork to kill any potential disease-carrying organisms.

Since modern research has apparently solved these problems of disease, and we rarely hear of parasites passing to people through under-cooked meat, many people assume eating pork is now acceptable to God. Since many people eat pork all their lives and live to a ripe old age, the average person—if he thinks about it at all—assumes eating pork has little or no effect on health or longevity.

Research has convinced some doctors and nutritionists, however, to recommend that some of their patients avoid pork and shellfish (another category of biblically unclean food) in their diets; they understand that some people do not properly digest these meats. So some will acknowledge that avoidance of certain meats makes sense for people with particular health problems, but not as a rule for everyone.

Most religious teachers have adopted a perspective that parallels this scientific reasoning. Theologians have assumed that the laws of clean and unclean meats originated under the Old Covenant with ancient Israel and came to an end with the establishment of the New Covenant. Thus they believe many laws from the Old Testament are no longer applicable to Christians.

Many think Paul confirmed this approach when he said, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14 Romans 14:14I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
American King James Version×
).

This reasoning places God in the role of master physician in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the role of liberator from God’s law in the New Testament. If we assume that God was simply looking out for the health of the ancient Israelites, the Bible’s lists of clean and unclean animals become only primitive health issues for which modern, enlightened, liberated mankind no longer has need. The popular reasoning is that Christ understood this and gave His followers the freedom to decide for themselves in such matters. Some believe God will honor any decision we make for ourselves regarding such things.

This popular view is taught by most churches. But the crucial question remains: Does it accurately reflect biblical teaching?

God’s view is different

God made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27 Genesis 1:26-27 26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
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). In doing so He gave men and women the ability to reason. Though a wonderful gift, our thinking ability is not infallible. When ancient Israel’s reasoning went awry, God said, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18 Isaiah 1:18Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
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).

But Scripture also records God telling us: “ ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah 55:8-9 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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).

So God, not man, is the authority on our conduct (Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
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), including deciding that of what foods we may or may not eat.

In addition, the great prophet Jeremiah candidly admitted, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23 Jeremiah 10:23O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.
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).

In light of these Bible verses, we need to carefully examine the matter of clean and unclean meats. We need to be sure we understand God’s perspective instead of relying exclusively on our own reasoning.

The origin of the distinctions

The first biblical account noting distinctions between clean and unclean animals documents events that occurred long before the Exodus. Almost 1,000 years before God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, in fact centuries before there even was an Israel, He told Noah to take into the ark unclean animals by twos and the clean ones by sevens (Genesis 6:19 Genesis 6:19And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shall you bring into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.
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; Genesis 7:2 Genesis 7:2Of every clean beast you shall take to you by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.
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).

God did not tell Noah in this account that He was, for the first time, making a distinction between clean and unclean animals. God simply said, “Of every clean animal you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, two, a male and its mate” (Genesis 7:2 Genesis 7:2Of every clean beast you shall take to you by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.
American King James Version×
, New Jewish Publication Society).

God did not have to define for Noah the meaning of clean and unclean. Noah understood God’s instruction and what was required of him, and he obeyed. To comprehend what God meant by these terms, we must go to other chapters of the Bible—Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

The account in Genesis about Noah shows that the distinction between clean and unclean animals existed early in history, long before God ratified His covenant with Israel. Thus the Bible itself clearly shows that the popular idea that the cleanness and uncleanness of animals originated in the Old Covenant is incorrect. Since these distinctions existed long before the Israelite sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood, it does not follow that they would cease with a change in the sacrificial system or the priesthood. As we will see, the Bible teaches that the distinction between clean and unclean has never been rescinded and that the distinction continues to exist for good reasons.

Another flaw in some people’s understanding is that God’s law did not exist until the specific time of its first mention in the Bible. This misconception leads to the equally flawed belief that the only laws applicable to New Covenant Christians are those restated in the New Testament after Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus Himself dismissed this reasoning as false (Matthew 5:17-19 Matthew 5:17-19 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
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). Although such assumptions about when God’s law came into effect lack biblical proof, they do raise an important issue for us to consider—the continuity of God’s law.

The nature of God’s law

Some people reason that God allowed Adam and Eve to eat any animal but changed the rules for Noah. Or they argue that Noah could eat any kind of animal flesh because God had revealed no specific instructions that expressly forbade him from doing so.

Such reasoning is inherently flawed. It overlooks the permanent nature of the spiritual principles that form the basis for the instruction God has given to mankind.

God bases His instructions to people on spiritual principles that have always existed. Just as God is eternal (Deuteronomy 33:27 Deuteronomy 33:27The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before you; and shall say, Destroy them.
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; Psalms 90:2 Psalms 90:2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
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), so are the principles that reflect His eternal character and nature (Malachi 3:6 Malachi 3:6For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.
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; Hebrews 13:8 Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
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). God’s law is based on His unchanging character, not dependent on events and attitudes prevalent in human history.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is a book about law. However, it is not written as a purely legal book. The Hebrew word for law ( torah ) encompasses direction and instruction, concepts much broader than a mere legal code. God’s law existed before the Bible was written down. As Paul noted, “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14 Romans 7:14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
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).

The Bible is a book about relationships —specifically how people in the past related to God and, based on their experiences, how we should relate to Him. God’s law—His direction and instruction for people—provides the guidelines for developing a relationship with Him that leads to eternal life (John 17:2-3 John 17:2-3 2 As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
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).

Through time, as our relationship with God develops, we learn more about what He expects of us—the thoughts and actions acceptable under His law—and begin thinking and doing those things (Matthew 7:21 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
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; John 14:15 John 14:15If you love me, keep my commandments.
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; Revelation 14:12 Revelation 14:12Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
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).

When we understand the spiritual principles that stand as the basis for God’s law, we don’t look for loopholes in His law to avoid doing what He commands. When we enjoy a loving relationship with Him, we keep His commandments (1 John 5:2 1 John 5:2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
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). As the apostle John tells us: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
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). All God’s commandments exist for our benefit.

Did something in the law change?

Let’s note an additional consideration regarding the nature of God’s law. Some will argue that all of God’s law is temporary because of obvious changes since Old Testament times concerning the laws of sacrifice and circumcision. This argument is rooted in confusion over how these changes came about.

The Bible notes that some of this confusion stems from differences in ministries or administrations. Paul, who wrote of God’s “spiritual” law (Romans 7:14 Romans 7:14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
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), also wrote of “differences of administrations, but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:5 1 Corinthians 12:5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
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, King James Version). Paul also wrote of the differences between the Old Covenant ministry, or administration, compared with that of the New (2 Corinthians 3).

Administrative changes, however, are not to be confused with God’s law itself, which Jesus clearly said continues to exist and apply today (Matthew 5:18 Matthew 5:18For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
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). God has allowed and, in some cases, directed adjustments in administrative applications of God’s law. In every instance Scripture spells out such administrative changes. We find no administrative change in the New Testament regarding clean and unclean meats.

Codifying previously revealed laws

God’s laws existed long before Moses and the Israelites came on the scene. For example, God says of Abraham, who lived several centuries before the Israelites left Egypt, that he “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
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).

When God began to work with ancient Israel, He was not formulating and announcing His law for the first time; He was restating it for a group of people that had spent several generations as slaves in Egypt (Exodus 12:41 Exodus 12:41And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.
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). Under those circumstances these people probably had not remembered God’s law, much less obeyed it. Thus God spent ample time systematically revealing His laws for the new nation.

Before the Israelites left Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai, God began instructing them about His festivals (Exodus 5:1 Exodus 5:1And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.
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; Exodus 12:1-51 Exodus 12:1-51 1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, 2 This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak you to all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the entrails thereof. 10 And you shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall you eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. 14 And this day shall be to you for a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. 15 Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. 16 And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. 17 And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. 19 Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whoever eats that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall you eat unleavened bread. 21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. 22 And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this thing for an ordinance to you and to your sons for ever. 25 And it shall come to pass, when you be come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he has promised, that you shall keep this service. 26 And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, What mean you by this service? 27 That you shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped. 28 And the children of Israel went away, and did as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they. 29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent on the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. 34 And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes on their shoulders. 35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: 36 And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent to them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. 37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. 38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual. 40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelled in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night to be much observed to the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations. 43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: 44 But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. 45 A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof. 46 In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall you break a bone thereof. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. 49 One law shall be to him that is home born, and to the stranger that sojournes among you. 50 Thus did all the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they. 51 And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies.
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). As they journeyed to Sinai, God instructed them to rest on His weekly Sabbath day (Exodus 16:23 Exodus 16:23And he said to them, This is that which the LORD has said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath to the LORD: bake that which you will bake to day, and seethe that you will seethe; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.
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), reinforcing that command by miraculously sending a larger portion of manna, a special food to be gathered up from the ground, on the sixth day of the week and none at all on the seventh (Exodus 16:25-29 Exodus 16:25-29 25 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath to the LORD: to day you shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. 27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See, for that the LORD has given you the sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide you every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
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). When some Israelites ignored God’s instruction and looked for manna on the Sabbath, God rebuked them: “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?” (verse 28).

These events took place before God revealed the observance of His Sabbath as one of the Ten Commandments when the Israelites came to the Wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 19:1 Exodus 19:1In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.
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). There God spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20). Then God gave His judgments—rulings on practical ways for the Israelites to apply His law—and further instructions regarding the weekly Sabbath and His festivals (Exodus 21-23). If His people would obey, God promised to bless them physically by taking away sickness and providing them security within their new land (Exodus 23:25-33 Exodus 23:25-33 25 And you shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless your bread, and your water; and I will take sickness away from the middle of you. 26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in your land: the number of your days I will fulfill. 27 I will send my fear before you, and will destroy all the people to whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against you. 30 By little and little I will drive them out from before you, until you be increased, and inherit the land. 31 And I will set your bounds from the Red sea even to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me: for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.
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).

The purpose of the distinction

In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 we find lists of clean and unclean animals. The first listing was given for the benefit of the generation that had escaped from Egyptian slavery. In Deuteronomy God reemphasized this instruction for the next generation as it was about to claim its new territory in the Promised Land.

The two chapters give the same reason for God’s instruction on clean and unclean meats. In Leviticus 11 God says that to “be holy” one must avoid the unclean. In Deuteronomy 14 Israel was told not to eat “any detestable thing” (Deuteronomy 14:3 Deuteronomy 14:3You shall not eat any abominable thing.
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), “for you are a holy people to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:2-21 Deuteronomy 14:2-21 2 For you are an holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a peculiar people to himself, above all the nations that are on the earth. 3 You shall not eat any abominable thing. 4 These are the beasts which you shall eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, 5 The hart, and the roebuck, and the fallow deer, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the wild ox, and the chamois. 6 And every beast that parts the hoof, and separates the cleft into two claws, and chews the cud among the beasts, that you shall eat. 7 Nevertheless these you shall not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore they are unclean to you. 8 And the swine, because it divides the hoof, yet chews not the cud, it is unclean to you: you shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass. 9 These you shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall you eat: 10 And whatever has not fins and scales you may not eat; it is unclean to you. 11 Of all clean birds you shall eat. 12 But these are they of which you shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, 13 And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind, 14 And every raven after his kind, 15 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, 16 The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan, 17 And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant, 18 And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. 19 And every creeping thing that flies is unclean to you: they shall not be eaten. 20 But of all clean fowls you may eat. 21 You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you shall give it to the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to an alien: for you are an holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.
American King James Version×
). To be holy means to be set apart by God.

The specific purpose God gave for avoiding unclean meats is holiness. God wants us to be holy. Since we belong to Him and He purchased us with Christ’s blood, He does not want us to contaminate ourselves through any kind of physical or spiritual defilement (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 15 Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know you not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, said he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. 19 What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? 20 For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
American King James Version×
). In God’s sight refraining from eating unclean animals is an identifying sign of the holiness of those God has set apart through a relationship with Him.

Those who honor God should reflect holiness in their thoughts and actions. God requires holy conduct, a way of life distinctly different from that of the rest of the world. Holiness in conduct is based in attitudes toward God, others and self that result in actions that avoid causing pain and build lasting beneficial relationships. Of course, being holy means much more than merely avoiding unclean meats. Christ spoke of the “weightier matters of the law,” such as judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
American King James Version×
).

God gave His laws to physical people who suffer the consequences when they do not follow those laws. Breaking His law against adultery, for example, can destroy a marriage and family. Deuteronomy 28 records numerous calamities that befell the Israelites when they failed to obey the laws of God. But He said he would establish them as a holy people if they would keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 28:9 Deuteronomy 28:9The LORD shall establish you an holy people to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and walk in his ways.
American King James Version×
).

God’s continuing desire for His people to be holy has remained constant. As Paul said, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4 Ephesians 1:4According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
American King James Version×
).

The apostle Peter admonished Christians to live “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 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’ ” (1 Peter 1:14-16 1 Peter 1:14-16 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which has called you is holy, so be you holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be you holy; for I am holy.
American King James Version×
).

Of course, Peter had in mind a far wider range of godly behavior than merely refraining from unclean meats. So did Paul when he reminded the Corinthians of God’s instruction: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 17 Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18 And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×
).

Change in administration

When Jesus came to earth to die for mankind’s sins and become our High Priest, His ministry replaced the Levitical priesthood, which had functioned from the time of Moses (Hebrews 7:11-14 Hebrews 7:11-14 11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertains to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
American King James Version×
). Jesus is our “guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22 Hebrews 7:22By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version), called the “new covenant” (Hebrews 8:8-13 Hebrews 8:8-13 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 13 In that he said, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.
American King James Version×
).

Christ’s ministry does not void God’s law. Instead, God writes that law on the heart of those who accept this covenant so that it becomes a part of their mind and way of thinking (verse 10). Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17-19 Matthew 5:17-19 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
). The New Covenant, of which Jesus is our High Priest, contains “better promises” (Hebrews 8:6 Hebrews 8:6But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
American King James Version×
), not better law. The better promises include eternal life as well as the promise of God’s Spirit, which empowers us to live according to God’s laws (Romans 8:4 Romans 8:4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×
).

Notice Paul’s summing up of this principle: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23 Romans 6:22-23 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×
). A Christian will make every effort to adhere to all of God’s instruction and live a holy way of life.

When God made the administrative change from the Levitical priesthood to the ministry of Jesus Christ, the laws and administrative principles that pertained only to the Levites no longer applied in the same way. As Hebrews 7:12 Hebrews 7:12For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
American King James Version×
puts it: “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” The law—specifically the law concerning who served as God’s priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14 Hebrews 7:13-14 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertains to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
American King James Version×
)—was changed, not rendered invalid. The change in the priesthood did not negate the laws and principles God gave for our spiritual and physical benefit.

The enduring practice of the apostles and early Church was to continue to follow the distinctions God gave regarding clean and unclean meats (Acts 10:14 Acts 10:14But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
American King James Version×
).

Some people suppose this was merely a case of culture or tradition. Yet, concerning prophetic fulfillments yet to occur, the Bible speaks of unclean animals (Revelation 18:2 Revelation 18:2And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
American King James Version×
) and punishment of those who disobey Him in this matter (Isaiah 66:15-17 Isaiah 66:15-17 15 For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. 16 For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. 17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the middle, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, said the LORD.
American King James Version×
). The Bible continues to show obedience to the laws of clean and unclean food as an identifying characteristic of God’s people.

Being different from the rest of society by following God’s law is no cause for embarrassment. Peter writes of God’s called-out people that “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
American King James Version×
). God describes His chosen people as called to holiness. This includes the matter of clean and unclean meats.

However, Christians should always use wisdom and discretion in how they reveal practices involving the avoidance of unclean meats to family and friends. They should not try to push God’s laws on adults who are responsible for making their own decisions in such matters. Paul advises: “Be wise in your dealings with outsiders, but use your opportunities to the full. Let your words always be gracious…Learn how best to respond to each person you meet” (Colossians 4:4-6 Colossians 4:4-6 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.
American King James Version×
, Revised English Bible).

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