The Biblical Food Laws and Health

Many have taught about the Biblical food laws found in Leviticus 11 and Deut 14, but were they given for health reasons? The plain answer is “No.” Some say that this was the reason that God gave these laws and people today should follow them for those reasons, but the real question is “did the Lord give these laws for health reasons?” Did he give the dietary laws for hygienic purposes and that is the reason that unclean animals were never to be eaten? What does “clean” and “unclean” mean to begin with? All these questions will be answered, but let’s go to Leviticus 11.8 where it says “You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.”

The word for unclean is “tamai” in Hebrew and the word for clean is “tahor.” In Lev 11.24-25 it says that if you touched or picked up an unclean carcass you would be ritually unclean until evening. In Lev 11.40 it says that if a clean (tahor) animal died of itself and a person ate it he was told to wash his clothes and they would be unclean until evening. If the food laws were for health reasons, how could a man be hygienically clean and healthy simply by waiting till sundown? This would mean that he was in an unhealthy state just before sundown, then he was instantly healthy after sundown. This is clearly not what the Lord was saying by these laws, and health had nothing to do with them.

These laws were given for ritual, ceremonial reasons and entering the Sanctuary and had nothing to do with the physical. This brings up several other issues that we will deal with. The Bible teaches that all people are sinners, even believers. Anyone who casually studies the Word understands this. Today, many believers think they are keeping the biblical food laws, but they really aren’t. 

The Word of God says that any animal that chews the cud and has cloven hoofs is fit to eat, and some of them fit for sacrifices, and those that don’t are not. Fish with scales and fins were clean and those creatures that did not have these characteristics were not. Insects of the locust family were clean. Any creature that did not meet the “clean” criteria were considered unclean. These laws came from God and many debate about them today.

Some say they should be kept today and others don’t think so, or they believe that “Jesus set us free from the dietary laws” and they can eat whatever they want anyway. Well, what does all this mean and how does it apply?

The terms “clean” (tahor) and “unclean” (tamai) have nothing to do with physical or moral cleanness or uncleanliness. They are understood as a “ritual” and “ceremonial” cleanness and uncleanliness. That means that clean and unclean related to three things. It related to entering the Sanctuary, being able to touch the holy things in the Sanctuary and being able to participate in the “avodah” or the worship in the Sanctuary. Since there is no Sanctuary, the laws concerning clean and unclean are not applicable at the present. However, Lev 11.1-23 does not directly address whether eating unclean animals will make you unfit to enter the Sanctuary, or unclean. It simply forbids eating them.

Now, uncleanliness was not a sin because Yeshua was unclean many times, and we know he didn’t sin. He touched the dead and the lepers, menstrous women touched him and he was around the sick constantly. He even went to a graveyard (Lazarus). But, when he was unclean he participated in the cleansing ceremonies taught in the Torah in order to be restored for Sanctuary attendance. A woman who has a baby is unclean, a husband and wife are considerrd unclean after sexual intercourse, but that isn’t considered sin. Everybody today is unclean. There is not one person who is ritually clean today, unless you are the children being raised in Jerusalem that are awaiting the Red Heifer.

Rabbinic Jews keep rabbinical kosher laws. They will have separate dishes for meat and milk, rabbinically supervised slaughter of their meat and the blood drained, they will do all sorts of things to make sure their meat is kosher, but they are unclean in other areas. Not one of them would be allowed to enter the Sanctuary unless they underwent the cleansing ceremonies described in the Torah. They may go to get an immersion, wash their clothes and do what the Torah says to do, but there aren’t very many people alive today who have not touched the dead, or been touched by someone who has. This makes them unclean.

How about touching an unclean animal that is dead. And anyone who touches an unclean carcass makes anyone they touch unclean also. How about walking in a graveyard, on top of graves. That makes them unclean. Now, if these people who go to such lengths to remain clean aren’t really clean at all, how much more are we who don’t go to such lengths?

Now, if the food laws were for health reasons, why would the Lord say in Deut 14.21 that “You (Israel) shall not eat anything that dies of itself. You may give it to the alien (ger) in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people (set apart) to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” He says that an Israelite could not eat an animal that was found dead, but a Gentile could. If these laws were for health reasons, why would he let a Gentile eat it? Didn’t he care about the health of a Gentile? Of course he did. The answer is this foreigner won’t be going to the Sanctuary, touching holy things in the Sanctuary or participating in the services there. These laws were designed for his people, not for unbelievers. Why did he give these rules?

Lev 11.44-47 says that these laws were given so that his people would not become ritually and ceremonially unclean, because then they would not be able to enter the Sanctuary and worship. They were given so that the people would learn to make a distinction between the “holy and common” and the clean and the unclean, not only in food but in all things. It was training them to know the difference between light and darkness, good and evil. He wanted his people to be different than the world. Holy (kedusha) means “to set apart for the service of God by formal and legal restrictions and limitations.” Because there is no Temple or Sanctuary, these laws don’t apply for the time being, just like many other laws in the Torah only applied in the Temple or if you lived in the land.

It’s the same reason that you can’t keep the biblical festivals today either. These can only be kept where the Lord chooses to put his name, and the last place was the Temple in Jerusalem. Biblical Tithing does not apply today, that can only be kept while there was a Temple, a functioning priesthood existed and if you lived in the land, making your living in agriculture off the land. So, the clean and unclean laws were not given for health reasons and they do not apply today. As far as eating unclean animals is concerned, Lev 11.1-23 does not directly address whether eating unclean animals will make you unclean, it simply forbids you to eat them.

But remember, if you buy your meat from a grocery store, or eat in a restaurant, your food will be unclean anyway. Why? Because the knives used to cut a meat loaf were also used for the catfish. The plates that held pork ribs will also hold your steak. The kitchen is totally unclean, by biblical standards. 

Well, you say, we bring food to our congregation to pass. Is that OK? Of course, but it proabaly unclean. How do you know that the dishes used didn’t hold pork or shellfish sometime in its career? All we are saying is, if we are not going to go into the Temple or are not going to have contact with the holy objects associated with it, then the laws concerning clean and unclean don’t apply in ordinary life (“The Pentateuch and Haftorahs” by Rabbi Joseph Hertz, p. 459). But we are forbidden to eat them, and that is another issue.

Most Christians eat pork and lobster because they misunderstand the food laws and the laws of clean and unclean. They believe they are “free from the law” and that is another spiritual error altogether. We are clearly forbidden to eat the unclean animals mentioned in Lev 11.1-23. Yeshua and all the writers of the Gospels and Epistles did not eat the creatures mentioned in these verses and they followed the laws of ritual purity because there was a functioning Sanctuary and priesthood. They attended and participated in the Temple services because they were all Torah observant. When the Lord returns and Ezekiel’s Temple is dedicated on Chanukah, 75 days after the Lord returns to Jerusalem on Yom Kippur, these laws will be active again (Ezek 44.15-27).

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, The Tanach, The Temple, Understanding the New Testament

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