Clean and Unclean Foods

This entry is part 321 of 364 in the series Inquiring Minds
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Does the Bible say all food is clean?

Beginning in the Old Testament, God gave Israel laws about clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 11:1-47). This meant that certain animals were good for farming for the Israelites and other animals they were required to stay away from.

An important understanding of the clean and unclean laws is not that they were declaring one animal better than another. It wasn’t a system of comparison. Clean and unclean referred to ritual distinctions for worship in Israel. In other words, if you were around anything that was unclean, you, or an unclean person, could not enter the Temple and worship with the rest of the community.

These distinctions have to do with purity and what God allowed in his presence. These were strict laws because most unclean things had to do with death and disease. The point of declaring these things unclean and banning them from the Temple was to ban them from the presence of the Lord, usually for a certain amount of time.

The overall principle from the unclean laws is that God is not a God who supports death and disease. He is the God of life and wellness. So all of the things that were declared unclean were only declared this and banned from God’s presence because they represented the things he was not.

So, in the Old Testament laws, there were unclean foods, animals, practices that led to uncleanness for a time, and diseases that made an Israelite unclean. Most of these had a period of time for uncleanness. The person was not and from the Temple forever.

They would have to report to the priests, be examined, and then be declared clean again. Once they were clean, they could resume worship with the rest of the community in Israel. Unclean foods would be any kind of food made from an unclean animal.

In the New Testament, there is a change from unclean to clean. In Acts 10, before Peter goes to preach the gospel to unclean Gentiles, he has a vision from the Lord in which a sheet is lowered with all kinds of animals on it (Acts 10:9-33).

God gives him the command to kill and eat, referring to all of the animals he sees. Peter objects that he will not eat any unclean thing. God immediately tells him, “You must not call unclean what I have made clean.”

The animals are the illustration of the principle that the Gentiles are not unclean because God has put his image in them. But God basically declares that everything he has made is clean. The distinction of the Old Testament laws for the nation of Israel to show purity and honor the presence of God no longer applies.

God has made all things, and all things are clean. It is especially important to realize that the context of Acts 10 is to prepare Peter to speak to the Gentiles without ignoring God’s call to speak to them, just because he is a Jew and they are Gentiles. Normally, Old Testament laws do not permit Jews to mix with Gentiles in any fashion. But this would hinder the gospel from being preached.

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