To eat or not to eat: land animals
- 1 The LORD told Moses and Aaron:
- 2 I have a message for the people of Israel. Tell them this:
I’m going to let you know which land animals you can and can’t eat.
- 3 Yes: you can eat any animal that chews the cud and walks on split hooves.1
- 4 No: you’re not allowed to eat animals that do only one of the two: chew the cud or walk on split hooves. If they don’t do both, don’t eat them. Camels chew the cud, but don’t have split hooves. Consider the camel ritually unclean.2
- 5 No: rock hyrax.3 It chews a cud, but it doesn’t have split hooves. Don’t eat it.
- 6 No: rabbit. It chews a cud but has no split hooves. Don’t eat it.
- 7 No: pig. It has split hooves, but no cud. Don’t eat it.
- 8 Don’t eat any of these animals I’ve just mentioned. Don’t even touch their dead bodies. They’re ritually unclean.
To eat or not to eat: seafood
- 9 Yes: eat any animal from the water that has fins and scales. It doesn’t matter if they swim in lakes, streams, or oceans.
- 10 No: don’t eat anything from the water that doesn’t have fins and scales. Of all the many creatures in the water, these are the ones not fit to eat.
- 11 Consider them nasty and unfit for your mouth. Don’t eat them and if you come across a dead one, don’t touch it.
- 12 So, if the animal is in the water and doesn’t have both fins and scales, it’s not fit to eat.
To eat or not to eat: birds
- 13 No: eagles,4 vultures,
- 14 kites, or any kind of falcon. They’re not fit to eat.
- 15 No: raven of any kind,
- 16 ostrich, owl, seagull, any kind of hawk,
- 17 little owl, great owl, aquatic cormorant,
- 18 white owl, pelican, Egyptian vulture,
- 19 stork, heron of any kind, hoopoe, and the bat.
To eat or not to eat: bugs and company
- 20 No: winged and walking insects. They’re not fit to eat.
- 21 Yes: winged and walking insects that have leg joints and jump.
- 22 That includes all kinds of locusts,5 crickets, and grasshoppers. Eat any of them you like.
- 23 No: all other winged and walking insects are unfit to eat. So, don’t eat any of them except the locust, cricket, or grasshopper.
Animals to avoid
- 24 You’ll become ritually unclean for the rest of the day if you touch any of the following animals.
- 25 Also, if you pick up one of the following dead animals, you have to wash your clothes and wait until evening to become clean again.
- 26 Don’t touch any split-hoofed animal if it doesn’t also chew the cud. If you do, you’ll become unclean.
- 27 Don’t touch any animal that walks on four paws. If you do, you’re unclean until evening.
- 28 And if you pick up a dead one, you’ll have wash your clothes and wait until evening to become clean again.
Say no to scurrying little critters
- 29 And now for the forbidden critters that scurry around everywhere—I’m talking about the mole, the mouse, every kind of great lizard,
- 30 gecko, monitor lizard, common lizard, skink lizard, and the chameleon.
- 31 Among all the animals that scurry around on the earth, those are unclean. If you touch a dead one, you’re unclean until evening.
- 32 Anything that even touches one of those dead bodies will become unclean: wood, clothes, leather, cloth bag, or anything else a person might use. To clean something like that, wash it and let it sit until evening. Then it’ll be clean again.
- 33 But if anything made of clay touches it, too bad. You’ll have to shatter it. Anything it in becomes unclean, too.
- 34 That includes food, water, or any other liquid.
- 35 Anything that the animal’s dead body lands on becomes unclean, too. If it’s a stove or an oven where you cook your meals, you have to smash it to pieces.
- 36 If you touch the dead body of one of these animals, you’re unclean. But if the animal falls into a stream or a cistern that holds water, the water remains clean.
- 37 And if the animal’s body lands on seed, it’s okay. The seed remains clean.
- 38 But if the seed is wet when the animal’s body falls on it, that’s not okay. The seed has become unclean.
Clean animals, bugs make you unclean
- 39 If an animal that you’re allowed to eat dies and you touch it, you’re unclean until evening.6
- 40 If you eat meat of even a ritually clean animal, or if you carry it somewhere, you have to wash your clothes. You’re unclean the rest of the day, until evening.
- 41 No: bugs crawling on the ground are not fit to eat.
- 42 Don’t eat small animals that crawl on their belly or walk on four legs or more.
- 43 Don’t make yourself unfit to be around others for the rest of the day. So, don’t even touch them. If you do, you’re unclean.
God’s holy, so eat right and stay holy
- 44 Listen, I’m the LORD your God. I’m telling you to stay away from these unclean animals. Devote yourself to me so you’ll be holy, because I am holy. Don’t contaminate yourself with any of those tainted animals.
- 45 Remember this: I am the LORD who brought you here from Egypt. I did this to become your God. So, devote yourself to me and be holy because I am holy.
- 46 So there you have it, my laws about what contact you can have with land animals, birds, everything under water, and all the bugs and critters that crawl on the ground.
- 47 These laws let you know what animals are ritually clean or unclean, and what animals you can or can’t eat.
An example: cattle, unlike horses, have a split down the middle of their hooves. They also chew the cud, which means they can chew the food for a while, swallow it, then recall it for a second chew. The first chew may simply moisten the food before the cow swallows it into the first of four sections of its stomach, the rumen. Stomach acids further soften the food and turn it into a ball of “cud.” Rumen muscles shoot the cud back to the cow’s mouth. After that chew, what’s left of the cud drops into another part of the stomach.
Eating a ritually unclean animal would make the eater unclean, too, and unfit to worship in the tent worship center. Also, anyone the person touched would become unclean, as well. To cleanse themselves, they had to wash their clothes and wait until evening (Leviticus 11:28).
Native to Israel and surrounding nations, this small plant-eating animal looks a bit like the love critter of a groundhog and a Guinea pig. Kind of cute, until it opens its mouth and shows off what looks like vampire fangs.
In many cases, scholars have to guess what birds or other animals the writer was talking about. That’s why every Bible translation seems to vary a bit. The Bible writer didn’t describe all the birds and other animals with enough detail to identify them. For example, the first bird mentioned is a neser. That’s a Hebrew word that can mean eagle or vulture. And in 11:14, the word “falcon” comes from the Hebrew word ayya, which can refer to a falcon, vulture, or black kite.
John the Baptist lived in the Judean desert, where “he ate locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). A swarm of locusts could devour a farmer’s field in hours. But a farmer could eat a locust in a second. Given the damage locusts did—and still do—it might seem appropriate to make room for the crunchy little critters on the menu. Middle Easterners and Africans fry them, smoke them, dry them like jerky, or eat them raw like desert sushi with a cornflake crust.
This is a shock. It sounds like you’re condemned if you eat any meat at all, whether the animal is ritually clean or not. Some scholars, however, say that this refers only to clean animals found dead, perhaps killed by a person or a wild animal. These scholars argue that if a ritually clean animal is slaughtered properly, then there’s nothing impure about that. Deuteronomy 12:21 says people should slaughter animals in the way God instructed. But no instructions have survived in any of the first five books of the Bible, which are traditionally attributed to Moses.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
God speaks to both Moses and Aaron when he gives the laws about what is proper to eat. Generally, before this, God had spoken only to Moses, who was then expected to pass the word to Aaron and others. Why do you think God may have made an exception here? Was it perhaps to do with Aaron’s role as high priest? Or because Aaron had just lost two sons?
Leviticus 11:7 prohibits the eating of pig meat because the pig has split hooves, but no cud, and all such animals were considered unclean. By the time of Jesus this prohibition had become the chief among the food laws. Pigs were considered filthy and taboo. Can you remember any Bible stories about Jesus or his teachings that involved pigs.
In Leviticus 11:44 God sums up his list of suitable and unsuitable foods with a general statement: “Listen, I’m the LORD your God. I’m telling you to stay away from these unclean animals. Devote yourself to me so you’ll be holy, because I am holy. Don’t contaminate yourself with any of those tainted animals.” What do you think these food laws have to do with holiness? After all, Jesus himself later chewed out the Jewish leaders by saying, “Nothing that goes into your mouth will make you impure, and unfit to worship God. It’s what comes out of your mouth that can make you impure” (Matthew 15:11).
The New Testament seems to excuse Christians from following the food laws outlined in this chapter of Leviticus (and repeated in Deuteronomy). Jesus, Peter, and Paul each had something to say about these laws. Which of the following statements do you think the early Christians would have found most life-changing?
- In Mark 7:19–23 Jesus told his disciples: “No food or anything else you put into your body will ever make you impure, and unfit to worship God. What can make you impure is what comes out of you.” He went on to explain: “Whatever goes into a body isn’t able to make that person impure. The reason it can’t make a person impure is because it doesn’t go into the heart. It goes into the stomach and out to the toilet. You know that, don’t you?”
- The Apostle Peter learned this lesson in a dramatic incident, when he fell into a trance while praying one day and had a dream in which a bedsheet filled with clean and unclean animals was lowered. When a voice told Peter to butcher something and eat it, the startled Peter refused, saying: “These animals aren’t kosher.” The voice answered Peter back, saying: “What God has cleaned is kosher. So don’t think it’s not” (Acts 10:1–48).”
- In his Letter to the Romans 14:14–20, the Apostle Paul calls on his readers to stop fighting over what a person should and should not eat. “I believe that because of what our Lord Jesus did, we can eat any food we want. There’s no such thing as non-kosher food anymore.”
- In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “Our relationship with God has nothing to do with food. Eat the food or don’t eat. It won’t matter. Eating the food isn’t going to affect our relationship with God one way or the other” (1 Corinthians 8:8).
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians quickly did away with the Jewish food laws, but in the early centuries of the Church, Christians were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays and on various other special times of the year. The reason for this abstinence was to give up something for Jesus, who had died on a cross for them. During the Reformation, these regulations were dropped by the some of the new Protestant Churches. However, Catholics and a few Protestant Churches continued to require days of abstinence, though these regulations have weakened in recent times. But if we don’t abstain from meat as earlier Christians did, perhaps we should do something else to show our love for Jesus who died on a cross for us. What do you think might be a good way of expressing our love for Jesus by doing something other than skipping a meal of red meat? Is there something else we give up, as an expression of our gratitude? Or do you think Jesus might prefer we do something good instead of giving something up?