Diet Laws

unclean food 3

Q. Why did God had so many dietary laws? What has God against eating pork, lobster and shrimps? We Chinese eat pork more than beef and lamb, and we just love seafood. What’s it all about, and does it apply today?

A. You are most likely thinking of Leviticus 11 or Deuteronomy 14. The Israelites were forbidden to eat certain foods:

Lev 11:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.’
• Lev 11:9 ‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales.’

Examples of land animals that were forbidden include the camel, hyrax (like guinea pigs), rabbit, and pig. Sea or fresh water creatures that were not permitted include the catfish, eel, squid, octopus etc. (no scales) and all types of shellfish (lobster, shrimp, crab, oyster, clam etc.). No specific rules were given for birds, but many examples were cited as disallowed. All of these are classified as “unclean”. Why?

The reasons are not explicitly given in the text, so we have to make educated guesses:

1. They are ceremonially unclean (Lev 11:4) because some are used in pagan worship e.g. pig (Isa 66:3), who chose their own way.

2. Some are mixed and do not fall into pure categories e.g. chews the cud but does not have a divided hoof. This is symbolic as only pure categories can represent holiness.

3. Some are literally unclean and forbidden for hygiene reasons e.g. pigs are known to carry tapeworms and other parasites and must be thoroughly cooked.

4. Some are bottom-feeders or scavengers and carry high amounts of contaminants or diseases e.g. catfish, raven, gull.

5. Some have high cholesterol which are bad for one’s health e.g. shellfish.

6. Some are predators (carnivores) e.g. the eagle, kite, owl, hawk etc. or feed on carrion e.g. the vulture.

7. Lastly, some scholars believe the rules were simply arbitrary to test the Israelites’ obedience, rather than some intrinsic qualities which disqualify them.

My personal opinion is that it is probably a combination of all of the above, as we cannot be dogmatic when the Bible did not say so.

Do they still apply today? I would think not:
Acts 11:6-10 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
• 1 Tim 4:3-5 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

The Lord had freed us from abstaining from certain foods. We just need to remember that not everything is beneficial, and that we will not be mastered by anything (1 Co 6:12). Hope this helps.

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