Clean and Unclean Meats

We have another law that God gave to man, and this is in relation to diet. From the very beginning of time, there have been things that man could eat and those that he could not eat. Animals were created either clean or unclean. No law made them clean or unclean.

But for a record and a reference, the code was written telling which animals were clean and which were unclean, so man would know which could be eaten. This is another way of showing our obedience and love to God.

1. How do we know what we can eat and what we can’t eat? Leviticus 11:1-3

And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.

Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.

Leviticus 11:1-3

From these verses, God tells us how we can tell those things that we can eat. There are three signs:

  1. The animal must have a cloven (divided or split) hoof.
  2. That cloven hoof must be split into two toes (like the cow).
  3. The animal must chew the cud.

The animal must have all three of these distinctions. If it does not, we must refrain from eating it.

2. What we must not eat. Leviticus 11:4-8

There are several animals mentioned here that have some of the signs but not all three. Notice it mentions the camel. The camel chews the cud, “but divideth not the hoof.” So by this, we know the camel is not clean for food. (Note: a camel’s feet are technically not hooves but rather pads.) It mentions the rabbit (hare). The rabbit chews the cud but does not have the cloven hoof or the split hoof. It too has a paw. So we know the rabbit is unclean.

It also mentions the swine (pig, hog, sow). The pig has a cloven (divided/split) hoof but it does not chew its cud. So the Bible says the pig is unclean and should not be eaten. To do so is sin, as we shall see later on in the study.

3. What is there in the sea that we can eat? Leviticus 11:9-12

Those things that live in the waters must have fins and scales. If they do not have both of these, then we cannot eat them. The catfish has fins but it has no scales, so we are not to eat it. Oysters, crabs, and other shellfish we should not eat, because the Bible says they must have both fins and scales.

4. Is this law a part of the law of Moses? Genesis 7:1-5

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.

And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him.

Genesis 7:1-5

At the time of the flood, God told Noah to bring into the ark seven pairs of the clean animals and those that were not clean by twos. At the time of the flood, there were animals that were not clean; this was many years before the law of Moses was ever given. Thus, we can conclude that the Clean and Unclean Law has been in existence from the very beginning of time. They were tested in their diet, as we are today.

5. Shall put difference. Leviticus 20:23-26

And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.

But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people.

Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.

And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.

Leviticus 20:23-26

Israel was not to be like the rest of the nations. The Israelites were to put difference between the clean beast and the unclean one. They were not to defile themselves by eating the unclean beast.

Now, why would this meat defile them? It was because the animal was unclean and God told them not to eat it. To do so was sin, and it is the sin that defiles us.

6. Did Christ die to cleanse the animal? 1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as HE is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ HIS Son cleanseth us from all sin.
1 John 1:7

This tells us that Christ died to cleanse us (man). So He did not die to cleanse the animal. If the pig was unclean in olden times, it is still unclean today. The same goes for the rabbit, camel, bear, or any other animal that does not have the signs of a clean animal. They are still unclean today.

7. Are there still unclean things referred to in the New Testament? Revelation 18:2

And 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.
Revelation 18:2

This verse speaks about Babylon inhabiting every “unclean and hateful bird.” I realize this is speaking in symbolic terms but nevertheless, if there were no such thing as an unclean bird on this side of the cross, how could John use this symbol in this prophecy? This indicates very clearly there are unclean birds today. If there are still unclean birds, then there are still unclean animals.

8. Revelation 16:13.

This verse tells us that frogs are still unclean today. Why are they unclean? Because the Law of God is still in effect. The law does not make them unclean but the law was given that we might know what was unclean. They were created unclean, so God does not want us to eat anything that is not clean.

He has given us many things that we can eat, such as the cow, sheep, goat, and deer, chicken, etc. So why should we eat those things that He commanded we shouldn’t?

9. What warning is given if we eat the unclean? Isaiah 66:15-17

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.

For by fire and by HIS sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.

They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.

Isaiah 66:15-17

Notice especially verse 17. It says those who eat swine’s flesh and the mouse, shall all be consumed (by fire, burned up) at the coming of the Lord. Should we be concerned about what we eat then? If we can lose our salvation (and this verse reveals that we can) by eating unclean animals, then we should be very much concerned.

We know a thief cannot enter the kingdom, we know a liar cannot enter, so likewise, we should not eat those things that God forbids. It is a sin.

9. What happens to those who do not obey? 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8

This tells us very plainly what happens to those who do not obey.


11. Every creature is good? 1 Timothy 4:1-4

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

1 Timothy 4:1-4

This tells us that every creature is good and should not be refused. Now, should we retract everything we have said? How can we incorporate this? It says that every creature is good. If it means that we can eat every creature, then notice the next Scripture.

12. The commission of Christ. Mark 16:14-15

Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Mark 16:14-15

Christ told them to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. This tells us that we are creatures of God. If every creature is good for food, then that would mean that we can eat one another, for we are creatures of God. We know this cannot be true. What does it mean?

13. Turn back to 1 Timothy 4:4 again.

Now, first of all read verse 3. Here, it speaks about “…meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” Here it speaks of meat that God did create to be eaten. The fourth verse continues with the same thought that those creatures are good and should not be refused as those in the forepart of verse 3 were.

Now, for the final thought, notice verse 5, “For it (the creature) is sanctified by the Word of God.” What does the word sanctify mean? It means to be set apart.

The clean meat has been set apart by the Word for our consumption. But if it has not been set apart by the Word for eating, then we are to leave it alone, for God has told us not to eat it. Yes, every creature is good, if it has been sanctified by the Word.

14. Peter and the sheet.

There is a lot of information contained in these Scriptures. Here Peter has a vision. In this vision he sees a sheet let down to the earth. On this sheet were all kinds of animals, clean and unclean, and they were touching one another. Peter was told to rise, kill, and eat. Peter said he had never eaten anything “common or unclean.” The word common means defiled. In olden times when an animal touched an unclean animal, it became “common” or defiled and was to be thrown away (see Leviticus 7:19). But God tells Peter that He had cleansed something. What was it? Was it the animals?

At this time the Jews had no dealings with the Gentiles. They thought if they went into the house of a Gentile or touched him, they became defiled. But God used the vision of these animals to show Peter that he should not call any man common or unclean. If you read verse 28, you will see this is true. Then read verses 34-35.

No better way could God have chosen to show Peter that every man that God cleanses is no longer unclean. Cornelius was a Gentile but God forgave him his sins and cleansed him. Peter even baptized him according to verses 44-47. So, this has no reference to the cleaning of animals but God was showing that He accepted the Gentiles.


Illustration — Clean and Unclean Meats

clean and unclean illustration

15. Not what goeth into the mouth.

So many people use this to show we can eat anything we desire, for this says it isn’t that which goeth into the mouth that defiles the man but that which cometh out of the mouth. So they feel they can eat anything they desire. Those very same people condemn drinking, yet alcohol goes into the mouth too.

But let’s notice what is being discussed here. The subject is not the unclean meats. The subject is whether we can eat with unwashed hands. Jesus tells them that to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the body. So we cannot use this to show we can eat the unclean meat.

16. Eat whatsoever is set before you? 1 Corinthians 10:27

If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
1 Corinthians 10:27

This verse tells us to eat whatsoever is set before us. Does this mean if I eat at my friend’s home and they serve pork, I can go ahead and eat it? The Bible tells us to obey God rather than man. So how could this mean we can disobey the Law of God? Could this have reference to something else?

Beginning with verse 19, you will notice that Paul is talking about those things that were sacrificed to idols. The people (the heathen) thought that if the meat had been sacrificed to an idol then it was something special, as that idol must have blessed the meat. If you read Acts 15:20, you will notice the people were not to have anything to do with idols or anything that was connected with the idol. By this they gave a rebuke to the idol that it was nothing and that they did not believe in it.

So by reading 1 Corinthians 10:19, 25, 27-28, you will see that when they sat down to eat — if they did not know the meat had been sacrificed to idols — they were to eat it and not ask any questions. But if someone told them it had been sacrificed to idols, they were to refuse it as a rebuke to the idol and to show those who believed in the idol that the idol was nothing. By this, they were to point the people or those who believed in the idol to the true God and to the Savior who died for their sins.

Again this verse has nothing to do with the unclean meat.

17. Let no man judge you? Colossians 2:16-17

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17

Some people say we should not judge them if they eat unclean meat. For this says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink.” If you feel this way, do you feel it is all right to drink? This also mentions we are not to judge those who drink! Yet the Bible says no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).

What does this verse have reference to? If you read from verse 14, you will notice that it is speaking about those ordinances that were observed with food and drink; in other words, “feast days.”

Some men had come in and were telling the people that unless they continued to keep the old ordinances they could not be saved. The people were upset. Paul told them, “Don’t let it bother you whether you keep the ordinances (which included meat and drink) or not. Do not let what people think, to bother you.”

Then in the next verse (Colossians 2:17), you will see that Paul explains to them the “meat and drinks” had their fulfillment in Christ. So again this has nothing to do with the eating of unclean meats.


I hope by now that each one can see that not all meat is to be eaten. God also uses this as a test of our obedience. If we eat that which He has told us not to eat, we will lose our salvation as much as if we steal something. May God help us to be faithful.

Material from the book Answers to Your Bible Questions by Wesley Walker.

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Answers to Your Bible Questions