Book: What the Bible Teaches About "Clean" and "Unclean" Meats

As followers of Christ, it is God’s desire for us to be holy— set apart from the evil society around us (John 15:19; 17:14, 16). Such holiness is reflected in our thoughts and attitudes, our actions and conduct, and in our willingness to obey God in all things. As the collective “temple of God” (I Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20), we are to be clean and unpolluted. Thus, God commands that we eat only that which builds us up, supports our health, and promotes healing. In His mercy, He has given us clear directives as to what animal flesh is beneficial as food—and what must be avoided as harmful.

How will we respond?

Certainly, the issue of clean and unclean meats is of itself not a matter of salvation—not a “weightier matter” of the Law (Matt. 23:23; KJV). But our willingness—or lack of willingness—to yield ourselves in obedience to God is telling. Do we really follow Christ in all things—or are we Christians “in name only”? Do we put our lusts, desires, and appetites first, or do we put God’s perfect way of life first?

Will we, like Israel, be rebellious and provoke God to anger?

The prophet Isaiah notes that Israel was a particularly “rebellious people”—walking “in the way that is not good, even after their own thoughts [what seemed right to them]” (Isa. 65:2). They continually provoked God with their sins, which included eating “swine’s flesh” and the “broth of vile things” (verse 4). Contextually, Isaiah 65 and 66 deal with Israel and Judah in the end time—and on into the age to come. Thus, God’s laws of clean and unclean meats are binding even on the modern-day descendants of Israel.

In fact, at the time of Jesus’ return there will be those who will bring judgment upon themselves for their persistent violation of God’s laws—including those concerning clean and unclean meats. “For behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with His chariots like a tempest, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will execute judgment with all flesh; and the slain of the LORD will be many. ‘Those who sanctify themselves [through their own ways and traditions], and purify themselves to go into the gardens, after the [idolatrous] rites of Achad, eating swine’s flesh, and [that which is an] abomination, and the mouse, will be cut off together,’ says the LORD” (Isa. 66:15-17).

While these passages deal with vile aspects of pagan forms of worship, they clearly bring God’s laws of clean and unclean meats into the present and future. Where does this leave today’s Christian? Again, are we going to follow God’s way—or not? In God’s eyes, refraining from the consumption of unclean foods is one of the key identifying signs of those who truly belong to Christ— those who are willing to be holy, set apart for eternal service in His kingdom.

Remember Moses’ admonition to the children of Israel: “Be careful to observe and obey all these words which I command you, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever when you do that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deut. 12:28). May God help you to learn to “distinguish between the holy and unholy, and between the unclean and clean” (Lev. 10:10).