Do Clean And Unclean Meats Law Still Apply Today?

There is more to the dietary laws than simply healthy diet. It was a law of separation between the clean and the unclean, or the holy and the unholy. It was a shadow that pointed to the true spiritual law of separation in Christ. Those that are “in Christ” are clean and holy. Those that are not “in Christ” are unclean and unholy. The clean animals were used for the ceremonial sacrifices to depict the holiness of Christ. The clean animals were sanctified and used for the service of God in these sacrifices while the unclean animals were not. The ceremonial law of meats that was given to Moses was meant as an example of the separation of holy Israel from what is called the Gentile or unclean nations. By God requiring that His people make a distinction between clean and unclean animals or meats, He is illustrating how His people are to be holy or set apart from the unclean people of the world.

Many Old Testament laws are shadows of a future spiritual reality and the dietary laws are no different. When we understand the spiritual fulfillment of this law of separation in Christ, then the dietary laws are of no benefit morally, other than healthy living. If you want to go by these dietary guidelines for healthy eating habits there is nothing wrong with that. That is your choice. But we will see that Christians in the new covenant are under no moral obligation to do so. These are ceremonial laws fulfilled in Christ. They are not moral laws that are for all people, all the time. So how are we holy and how are we clean? It is not by our diet, but by faith in Christ. Everything comes back and points to faith in Christ because that is the gospel, that we are saved BY grace alone, THROUGH faith alone, and IN Christ alone.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matt. 5:17 (We must look for how Jesus “fulfilled” the law.)

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40 (All the Bible is about Jesus. We must understand how the Old Testament speaks of Jesus and how the New Testament fulfills the shadows of the old. When this happens, the old is gone and the new has come. Only the moral law remains.)

Set Apart People

We will see that even in the old covenant, the dietary laws were directly connected to a people that were to be set apart. It was always a law of separation regarding people. Separating the animals and food was always to depict the separation of a holy people. And the separation of Israel with the Gentile nations was always to depict the separation of believers and unbelievers. God set apart a people to do the work of the Lord. This has always been what the dietary laws were about. And now that the new covenant is here, the dietary laws have no moral benefit.

You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. “ ‘You must **therefore** make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. Lev. 20:23-26 (The word “therefore” is used to connect and correlate the two ideas. So we have here the reason why God had them do this with the animals and the food, it was to teach them a specific lesson. There may be dietary benefits to the dietary laws, but there is no moral benefit in the new covenant.)

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy“ ‘These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’ ” Lev. 11:44-47 (Again God connects and correlates being a holy set apart people with the separating of the animals and foods. This verse is just after explaining all the dietary laws and never is it said that the dietary laws were put into place for healthy eating. That can be a benefit, but it’s not a moral issue.)

Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to the foreigner residing in any of your towns, and they may eat it, or you may sell it to any other foreigner. But you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Duet. 14:21 (This text is also after a full exposition of all the dietary laws and again we do not see it correlated with healthy eating, but instead with being a set apart people.)

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 2 Cor. 6:14-17 (This is the spiritual reality of the law of separation. The dietary laws pointed to a separation of God’s people by faith with those not of faith.)

“ ‘Keep my decrees. “ ‘Do not mate different kinds of animals. “ ‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. “ ‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. Lev. 19:19 (We must be consistent in our interpretation. These are also laws of separation. Yet you will not find anyone that believes in the continuation of the dietary laws that also forbids woving 2 different kinds of material in their clothes.)

Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled. Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together. Deut. 22:9-11 (Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers is the spiritual interpretation of these laws of separation. These laws are no longer understood in their literal form, but in the spiritual. And the same goes with the dietary laws of separation.)

It’s About The Heart, Not The Belly

It is important to understand that sometimes the Bible is speaking in principles. For example, a verse may be speaking in the context of circumcision, but circumcision is not the core issue, but is used as one example to illustrate an overarching principle. If we demand that the context is only for circumcision, or the example being used, we miss the principle being taught. For example, is the following text in Mark 7 only speaking on the subject of washing hands before eating? Or is there a larger principle that we can or should be taking from this to apply in other areas?

And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? Mark 7:2-5 (Jesus and his disciples are being accused of not washing their hands before eating and thus defiling themselves. The Pharisees also had other ceremonial rules of washing cups, pots, plates, and tables. What does Jesus have to say about this? He seems to have a deeper principle in mind that needs to be understood.)

There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. Mark 7:15-20 (Jesus is speaking to the deeper more spiritual understanding of the ceremonial washings and what it actually points to. But not just ceremonial washings, it’s also an overarching principle being taught. It’s not about what goes into the belly, it’s about what goes into the heart. Therefore it is about what comes out of the heart that defiles him. Clean and unclean meats go into the belly, not the heart, therefore it does not define us or make us unclean. Jesus is telling them that if they think it’s about dietary laws or ceremonial washings of any kind, we have missed what these shadows were pointing to. Jesus desires clean, pure, and holy hearts. If it goes into the belly, then no worries because it comes out “into the drought.”) 

Peter’s Vision

Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. Acts 10:9-15 (We will see that Peter’s vision was about Gentiles being received by God. That they were no longer unclean and separated from clean Israel. So there is no more principle of separation between Jews and Gentiles. Now the principle of separation is between believers and unbelievers. The new covenant continues to teach that Christians be separate from the world of unbelievers. There should remain a distinction between them. And this is the primary distinction that the dietary laws pointed to.) 

And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 10:28 (So of Gentiles are no longer unclean, then neither are unclean meats any longer unclean from a moral perspective.) 

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) Acts 10: 34-36 (The vision was to show that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, Jews and Gentiles. But the implication regarding the dietary laws is that the old is gone, and the new has come. The unclean meats pointed to Gentiles being unclean. So if Gentiles are now no longer unclean, then the spiritual reality of the dietary laws are fulfilled.)

Weak In The Faith

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Rom. 14:1-2 (Paul is using the example of vegetarians, who perhaps abstain from meats to avoid eating foods sacrificed to idols. But is there a greater principle here that goes further than the immediate context of vegetarianism?)

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good 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, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
 Rom. 14:13-23 (This is a general principle indicated by the word “nothing” is unclean of itself. So this can and should absolutely apply to clean and unclean meats. It is a matter conscience. Those with a strong faith and conscience know that nothing is unclean of itself. As Jesus said in Mark 7, it is about what goes in and out of the heart, not the belly. “All food is clean” means that it is all morally clean. It’s not a moral issue. Whatever is of faith is not sin and whatever is not of faith is sin. So how strong or weak is your faith?)


Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. I Cor. 8:1-13 (This is NOT just about foods sacrificed to idols, that is just the example being used to teach an overarching principle. Idols mean nothing to those with a strong faith and conscience. To those with a weak faith and conscience, they are burdened with legalistic type thinking. They think that anything having any association with idols is defiled and they create man made rules to avoid any association thinking they are doing the right thing. But they are not understanding their freedom in Christ and that everything is God’s and to be received with thanksgiving. Nothing is unclean of itself. We can partake or not partake. It doesn’t matter either way except that the stronger in the faith experiences more freedom and joy in the world.)

Everything Belongs To The Lord

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:18-31
(Everything belongs to the Lord and should be received with thanksgiving. Everything is not beneficial or constructive, but that doesn’t make it a sin if it is done in faith. If what we do is being done for God’s glory in our heart, then it is of faith and permissible. Paul removes morality from the equation, and wants the believer to discern situations by this principle. It’s not just about meats sacrificed to idols. The language “anything,” “everything,” and “whatever,” all point to the fact that this is an overarching principle not to only be applied to the example being used of meats sacrificed to idols.)

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: I Tim. 4:1-4 (“Abstain from meats.” The sabbatarian will say that refers to vegetarianism. But it could refer to the dietary laws. Either way, I think it’s important to understand that God created everything, and nothing is unclean of itself. It is to be received with thanksgiving. This is an overarching principle. So with that in mind, how can the dietary laws exist in that? “Those who believe and know the truth” receive everything with thanksgiving.)

Figurative

"Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things--they will meet their end together," declares the LORD. Isaiah 66:17 (This is figurative language. It’s not talking of people that literally eat those things, but of people that partake in sin and commune with those that are unholy.)

“ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal. Rev. 18:2 (It’s not talking of literal unclean animals, but figuratively speaking of those who sin and are unholy. When you understand the spiritual reality of unclean animals, the verse makes sense. They depict sinners that are not identified in Christ.)

Ceremonial Food

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. Heb. 9:9-10 (The food was apart of the ceremonial regulations that were temporary until Christ came to institute the new covenant.)

“ ‘When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. Lev. 19:23-25 (Here we see the principle of a tree’s fruit being forbidden and holy for a time, yet that same tree and fruit becomes holy and pleasing to the Lord later on. This is exactly what happens with unclean meats, as well as Gentile people.)

Conclusion

These were ceremonial ordinances that were but a "shadow" pointing to their true significance. In Christ the basic requirement of holy separation from the unclean world is still validated, but in the true spiritual realities rather than these ceremonial observances. The spiritual reality of God's people being separated from the unclean world remains, but the ceremonial ordinances prefiguring the separation of Israel from the Gentiles do not. In the New Testament reformation, believers are now coming into Israel from the Gentile nations. Thus the children of God are not to be separated from Gentiles, but now the prohibition is to not be yoked together with unbelievers, which in reality the original prohibition signified in the first place.
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