Unclean Food Fight

November 15, 2022

Whenever you bring up the Bible’s prohibition against eating unclean food, get ready for a fight. It is not an easy conversation to have with most Christians. And if you live in Texas or Louisiana, what I am about to say could be considered fighting words. But this subject needs to be addressed, as it deals with how our Creator wants us to treat our bodies — the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Do you not know that you yourselves are Yah’s temple, and that Yah’s Spirit dwells in you?

I Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from Yahuah? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify Yahuah with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19,20

What agreement can exist between the temple of Yah and idols? For we are the temple of the living Yah. As Yah has said: “I will dwell with them and walk among them, and I will be their Elohim, and they will be My people.”

2 Corinthians 6:16

If our goal is to become more like our Father Yahuah and His son Yeshua, we must strive to model their behavior. This is a lifelong transformation process that can only happen by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1,2) We have to think differently about Torah — or, the Law.

Unfortunately, many of us have sat through countless sermons where we were told that “the law” had been done away with on the cross. We were taught that Old Testament commandments concerning food had no relevance in our modern age with its advancements in medicine and nutrition. The impression was given that we could eat anything we wanted because of…you know…grace.

Grace without the law is anarchy. The law without grace is tyranny.

Rob Skiba

Many fail to realize that the entire canon of Scripture instructs us in how our Creator wants us to live. These instructions apply to every generation, beginning with Adam. The wall of division between Old and New Testament was put there by men. And yes, there have been changes in the administration of the covenant since Genesis. However, these changes are not to be confused with changes in Torah.

There are different ministries, but the same Yahuah. There are diversities of operations, but it is the same Elohiym which works all in all.

1 Corinthians 12: 5,6 The Cepher

And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry and to build up the body of Messiah, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Yeshua.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Administrative changes or adjustments have been made in Torah instructions. However, these changes should not to be taken to mean that either the Father or Yeshua abolished the requirements of the law altogether. (Matthew 5:17)

Now if the ministry of death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at the face of Moses because of its fleeting glory, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry of righteousness! Indeed, what was once glorious has no glory now in comparison to the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which endures!

2 Corinthians 3: 7-11 Berean Study Bible

The directions and instructions given to us in the Torah (Law) are the guidelines we are to follow in order to live righteously in relationship with Elohim — a lifestyle that will ultimately lead to eternal life. As this precious relationship grows and matures, our thoughts, actions and deeds will align with His. This is the epitome of righteous living.

What is Food?

Nowhere in the New Testament (Brit Ha’dasha) do we see an administrative change in the rules regarding clean and unclean food. In a broader sense, dietary restrictions aren’t strictly about food. The rules that govern what we should or should not eat has everything to do with Yah’s concern for our health and well-being. Our Creator knows that certain plants and animals, when ingested, can either kill us or ruin our health. This is why we are given instructions on what types of animals we should avoid ingesting.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what foods are off limits to us, we must first understand what food is and what it is designed to do for us. Let’s begin with a secular definition of food. The American Heritage Dictionary1 defines food as:

Material, usually of plant or animal origin, that contains or consists of essential body nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals, and is ingested and assimilated by an organism to produce energy, stimulate growth, and maintain life.

There are two Hebrew words for food mentioned in the Old Testament writings. One is ma’akâl (H3978). It can mean food, fruit, or meat. Maakal is taken from akâl (H398) which means to eat, devour, burn up or feed. It is first mentioned in Genesis 2:9:

And out of the ground made Yahuah Elohim to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;

The other word for food is ‘ôkel (H400) which is the word Joseph’s brothers used when explaining why they came to Egypt. Okel can mean meat, food, eating, victuals or prey. It also carries the understanding that through sustenance one becomes whole and satisfied.

The Most High wants our bodies to be filled with meats and vegetables and grains that will cause us to be whole, satisfied, and disease-free.

Detestable and Unclean

The notion of clean and unclean animals did not originate in the Mosaic law given at Sinai. Yah’s commandments, statues and laws have been in effect since the first couple resided in the Edenic paradise. When Noah was provisioning the Ark, he made room for both clean and unclean beasts and birds.

Noah Did Not Eat Pork

The clean and unclean animals, the birds, and everything that crawls along the ground came to Noah to enter the ark, two by two, male and female, as Yahuah commanded Noah.

Genesis 7:8

The clean animals were to be used in the sacrificial system of worship and for food. The unclean animals were “vacuum cleaners” designed to keep our earthly home clean. More on this later.

As part of his Torah instructions we are cautioned not to eat any detestable (abominable) or unclean thing so that we can live long and enjoy healthy lives.

You are therefore to distinguish between clean and unclean animals and birds. Do not become contaminated by any animal or bird, or by anything that crawls on the ground; I have set these apart as unclean for you.

Leviticus 20:25

Food laws were (and are) two-fold in their purpose. They apply equally to the civil and the ecclesiastical. In antiquity, the purpose behind making a distinction between clean and unclean meats was to discourage the Israelites from becoming influenced by foreign cultures regarding their dietary and religious practices. 

The Hebrews were taught to abhor certain foods eaten by other cultures so as to be a distinctive, peculiar people set apart for Yah.

Unclean Food Fights

As was mentioned before, there is a popular misconception that the New Covenant effectively abolished Yahuah’s laws and commandments. Many people assume that clean vs. unclean food restrictions were limited to ancient Jewish cultural practices. However, ministerial changes enacted following the transition from a Levitical priesthood to the ministry of Yeshua did not void Torah’s clean and unclean food distinctions.

Both Paul and Peter stressed the need for all believers to practice righteous behavior as outlined in the Torah. By doing so we demonstrate to the world our set-apartness and put obedience on display. For those of you who remain unconvinced, we will look at New Testament Scripture verses that prove that Old Testament food instructions are still in effect.

Peter’s Vision in Acts 10

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven open and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, as well as birds of the air. Then a voice said to him: “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” “No, Lord!” Peter answered. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

Acts 10:10-15

Although many believers assume that Peter’s vision meant that Old Testament dietary restrictions had been lifted, they are mistaken. Peter’s vision had nothing to do with food. The conversation he had with “the voice” was concerning how “unclean” gentile nations would now be eligible for a place in Yah’s coming Kingdom based on the redemptive work of our Messiah. Their conversion would be based on repentance and faith in Yeshua.

Read down to verse 28 of the chapter for context. When Peter met up with Cornelius in Caesarea, he told the people gathered in the Centurion’s home that the vision concerned the Gentiles — the nations.

He said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.

Acts 10:28

When Peter professed to never having eaten anything common or unclean, he was still obeying Torah dietary restrictions 2 ten years after the crucifixion of Yeshua.

A Pauline Controversy in Romans 14

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on his opinions. For one person has faith to eat all things, while another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not belittle the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted him.

Romans 14:1-3

Therefore let us stop judging one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. I am convinced and fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed by what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother, for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good, then, to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

Romans 14:13-18

In Paul’s day meat was often sacrificed on pagan altars and dedicated to pagan gods. This meat would subsequently turn up in local meat markets for sale. These verses fail to support the argument that Paul was teaching that the law governing clean and unclean animals had been rescinded. The issue here had everything to do with a person’s conscience.

A pagan sacrifice

The debate was centered around a believer’s freedom in Messiah; their liberty operating within the framework of Torah. New believers from pagan nations were told by Paul that they had choices. If they did not want to risk eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols they could fast, or eat only vegetables. If their conscience was was not bothered by eating sacrificed meat, they could eat the meat. That’s why Paul, said “let each be fully convinced in his own mind”3 because “whatever is not of faith is sin.” 4

Paul was not giving permission to eat pork or any other unclean meat. Romans 14 deals with the notion of Christian liberty — behaving according to what your conscience allowed.

The Colossian Food Police

Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath.

Colossians 2:17

This passage has nothing to do with eating clean or unclean meats. The Greek word for food used here is brosis, which describes the “act of eating.” This is evidenced in the following literal translations of this verse:

Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a celebration, or of a new moon, or of Sabbaths,

Colossians 2:17 Literal Standard Version

Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths,

Colossians 2:17 Young’s Literal Translation

Let no man therefore create a disturbance among you about eating and drinking, or about the division of the feast days, the beginning of the months and the day of the sabbath:

Colossians 2:17 Lamsa Bible

Paul was not addressing believers who were eating unclean animals, nor is he criticizing teachers who advocated in favor of Old Testament dietary practices. The argument over clean or unclean food doesn’t even come up in this passage. Paul was confronting some strains of asceticism — the avoidance of anything enjoyable. These false teachers believed that by denying the body, people could achieve a greater degree of spirituality. Paul summarized this belief as “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.”

If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”? These will all perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such restrictions indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-prescribed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body; but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Colossians 2:20-23

The Timothy Dilemma

They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from certain foods that God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creation of God is good, and nothing that is received with thanksgiving should be rejected, because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:3-5

Were these teachers warning believers not to keep antiquated laws concerning clean and unclean food? Paul’s beef with these teachers was that they were telling people to obey commands not found in the Scriptures. The Father encourages marriage and tells us which foods are good for us. The real issue here were beliefs rooted in Greek philosophy which taught that the body was evil and only the soul mattered. Their rules made them appear “hyper spiritual.” In reality these were the doctrines of demons. Again, asceticism rears its ugly head.

Paul was telling Timothy — and us — to trust the Scriptures and not questionable teachers with ulterior motives. It is by studying the word in context that we will be able to identify which meats are set apart by Yah for our enjoyment.

Bible Translations, Interpretations, and Commentaries

Before we go any further, I have to give a shout out to Sean Griffin of Kingdom in Context ministry. Sean’s caveat is “context creates comprehension.” He asserts, and rightly so, that if you cherry-pick certain Scripture verses to support your preferred dogma or doctrine then you will deceive yourself. When studying the Scriptures we must always consider the context. (Exegesis vs. Eisegesis)

Unfortunately (or futunately) we are living in a time where there are so many English bible translations that it is impossible to give an exact count. Couple this with the fact that these translations come in different “flavors”5 then it becomes a real challenge for those of us who sincerely desire a deeper understanding of what the Father is trying to tell us in His Word.

Consider these verses in chapter 7 of Mark’s gospel:

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, and they saw some of His disciples eating with hands that were defiled—that is, unwashed. Now in holding to the tradition of the elders, the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat until they wash their hands ceremonially. And on returning from the market, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions for them to observe, including the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and couches for dining. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned Jesus: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders? Instead, they eat with defiled hands.”

Mark 7: 1-5
ritual hand washing

The key to this exchange is found by examining the context! The Pharisees wanted to know why Yeshua’s disciples did not honor their hand washing ritual. This confrontation was not about clean vs. unclean meat consumption. The Pharisees were insulted because their traditions were being ignored.6

Later in the chapter, Yeshua explained to the crowd that witnessed the exchange what it meant to be truly defiled.

“Are you still so dull?” He asked. “Do you not understand? Nothing that enters a man from the outside can defile him, because it does not enter his heart, but it goes into the stomach and then is eliminated.”

Mark 7: 18,19

Your Bible translation probably ends the verse with a statement in parenthesis. This means the publisher or translator took liberties to “help” you understand what is being said. In the case of Mark 7:18 and19, are they helping you understand, or are they pushing the narrative that the rules governing clean and unclean food was done away with? (Violating Torah by eating unclean animals would have been unthinkable to Yeshua and his disciples.7 )

Here is a sampling of the discrepancies found among available modern, classic, and literal translations.

Modern TranslationsClassic TranslationsLiteral Translations
For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) NIVBecause it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? KJVBecause it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it goes out, purifying all the meats. LSV
…since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) ESV…because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods. NKJV…because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats. YLT
…since it does not enter his heart, but [only] his stomach, and [from there it] is eliminated?” (By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.) Amplified
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all kinds of food. Webster’s Bible Translation

Because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly and goes out into the latrine. Purifying all the food. LET
…because it does not enter his heart, but it goes into the stomach and then is eliminated.” (Thus all foods are clean.) BSB…because it goeth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the draught? This he said , making all meats clean. ASVFor it goes not into the heart, but into the belly, and goes forth into the privy, purging all food. SLT

This confrontation was not about clean vs. unclean meat consumption. It was about man made traditions that teach people to disregard the commandments of Yah.

Yeshua was saying that our bodies are designed to process and excrete small dirt or dust particles that might enter the body via unwashed hands. He was telling them that it was more important to have clean thoughts. Bible translators, by adding parenthetical commentary, were misrepresenting Yeshua’s words in order to sell the doctrine that dietary laws no longer had to be obeyed.

Eat At Your Own Risk

Baby back ribs, shrimp scampi, gumbo, fried calamari and escargot. What’s not to like? Is the Father being mean by telling us that these are foods we should avoid? Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Download PDF Clean and Unclean Foods lists here.

Set Apart People

Now if perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on this basis the people received the law), why was there still need for another priest to appear—one in the order of Melchizedek and not in the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.

Hebrews 7: 11,12

The administrative modification made following the change from the Temple system (involving the Levitical priesthood) to the ministry of Yeshua meant that certain rules were no longer applicable. The law governing those who would serve in this new type of priesthood was changed, but not rendered invalid.

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:5

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

Yeshua’s ministry does not invalidate Torah. With Yeshua as our High Priest of the New Covenant, we are assured of “better promises” that include eternal life in the coming Kingdom — not “better law.” We can look forward to new glorified bodies in which the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will operate to the fullest, guaranteeing that we will never sin again. In the meantime, we are to practice righteous living by respecting and obeying Yah’s instructions on how to live holy lives in this mortal flesh.

Remember, it was the pagan nations with unclean practices that Yah’s people were constantly being admonished to avoid. Part of the calling of Yeshua’s disciples was to steer people away from the profane, idolatrous, and abominable.

Those who consecrate and purify themselves to enter the groves—to follow one in the center of those who eat the flesh of swine and vermin and rats—will perish together,” declares the LORD.

Isaiah 66:17

And Yahuah said to him,Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.

Ezekiel 9:4

Nevertheless, the foundation of Elohiym stands sure, having this seal, Yahuah knows them that are his. And let everyone that names the name of Mashiach [the Anointed Messiah] depart from iniquity.

2 Timothy 2:19 The Cepher

Righteous People Behaving Righteously

In Deuteronomy,8 Moses warned the people that they would suffer if they chose to disobey the commandments of the Most High. If they behaved righteously, by obeying Torah, their lives would be blessed. The same holds true for us today. (We become like the god we serve.)

In the case of food, we are what we eat. The greatest nutritionist you could ever consult would be our Heavenly Father. He literally wrote the book on nutrition. It’s called the Bible.

The Father knew way back then that eating pork, shellfish, and other unclean meats would make us more susceptible to stomach ulcers, digestive tract infections, and cancer. The danger lies in the unseen bacteria and toxic micro-organisms that these unclean animals and insects carry. It doesn’t matter what eccentric foodie bloggers think. When we disobey clearly defined dietary laws we will eventually pay the price.

The bottom line is will we be obedient or give into the demands of our flesh?

I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, and that you may love Yahuah your Elohim, obey Him, and hold fast to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land that Yahuah swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30: 19,20

As you share this information with family, friends and others, it is important not to be argumentative. We must respect each individual’s freedom of choice. We should never try to push Yah’s Torah on adults who have the right to make their own decisions. Shalom.

Act wisely toward outsiders, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4: 5,6

FOOTNOTES

1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition

2 Leviticus 11:1–47Deuteronomy 14:1–21

3 Romans 14:5

4 Romans 14:23

5 Not all translations are created equal. Some focus on a literal (or word for word) translation. Others focus on helping us understand the original meaning — thought for thought — of each passage.

6 Mark 7: 6-13

7 Paul: Acts 24:14;25:8;Romans 3:31;7:12,22. James: James 2:8-12;4:11. John: 1 John 3:4

8 Deuteronomy 28

Download PDF Clean and Unclean Foods lists here.

Credit: The clean and unclean food lists are taken from the booklet “What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats?” by The United Church of God, an International Association.

Brenda Ross
Brenda Ross

Brenda Ross is a co-author of the book, “The Gospel Worth Dying For.” She is a former major market radio and television broadcaster who has served as Single’s Ministry Director at one of Houston’s Memorial Drive-area churches, a Jews for Jesus staff volunteer, and participated in mission outreach activities in Costa Rica, Mexico, and China. Urban mission experience includes volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity and catering to the homeless in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

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