Q: #264. What is the difference between clean and unclean animals?
A: There are numerous places in the Bible that speak of “clean vs unclean” things. Animals are just one part of this. The primary place in the Bible that deals with animals is found in Leviticus 11, however, many other verses throughout the Bible address this as well.
It is clear that the primary reason why God gave these “clean vs unclean” laws was simply to separate Israel from the surrounding heathen nations through obedience to His laws. They were to be “holy.” This theme of God’s people being “holy” is repeated all through the Bible, but nowhere is this repeated more than in Leviticus, where the word “holy” is used 91 times (more than any other book in the Bible). In fact, after God finishes discussing what foods are clean and unclean, He closes Leviticus 11 by saying, “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy…” (Lev 11:44). So, again, the primary reason why God made a distinction between clean and unclean things (animals included) was so that they would be “holy” and separate from other nations by obeying His laws.
This being said, there was almost certainly a secondary reason why God separated clean animals from unclean animals and that is for health, sanitary, and dietary purposes. Nearly all of the animals that God called “unclean” have been shown scientifically to be more dangerous for humans to eat. Nearly all of these animals are animals of prey and scavengers. They often eat other animals which are weak, sick, diseased, or already dead (and often decaying). Many will eat garbage, and in the case of sea life, are often “bottom feeders.” Some crawl in the dirt. Some have poor digestive systems which do not dispose of “toxins” well. So, it is pretty obvious that eating these animals is going to increase a humans likelihood of getting sick, or at the very least can cause varying health problems.
Christians today are not required to obey these dietary laws. All foods are ok for us to eat (Mk 7:18-19)(Rom 14:2-3)(1 Cor 10:25)(Acts 10:14-15)(Col 2:16-17), but we would still be wise to follow these food guidelines for good health.
*** “Clean vs unclean” things were a part of ceremonial laws which pointed to Jesus. They were fulfilled in Jesus which is why we now longer need to follow them. For more on this, go here.