How Does God Define Food?
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Did you know that God has defined food for us in the Bible?
Out of all the commandments found in the Bible (both Old and New Testament), well over a dozen of them deal with how we should eat or what we should eat. These dietary commandments include the command not to eat blood (Acts 15:19) or strangled animals (Acts 15:20) and avoiding animals found dead or torn by wild animals (Leviticus 17:15). In each case, God is showing us those things which were made to eat and those things that were not made to eat.
This standard started in the very beginning. Among the first things God commanded Adam and Eve to do is not to EAT from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By doing so, He established the pattern He has instruction for food.
“16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17, NIV)
This patterned continued later in the Bible. Consider Noah for a moment. We are commonly taught that Noah took two of every animal on the Ark. This is actually incorrect. In Genesis chapter 7, we learn the following:
“The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate…’” (Gen. 7:1-2).
In God’s instructions to Noah, animals are divided into two categories: clean and unclean. He was commanded to take seven pairs of the clean animals. Why might this be? For one, clean animals were used later in sacrifices. We learn in other places that these animals were made to eat.
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (Gen. 8:20).
In another chapter of the Bible, Leviticus chapter 11, we find more specific instructions about clean and unclean animals.
Leviticus 11:2-3 – “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat.”
Notice that there are some animals God said ‘you may eat.’
The Hebrew word translated ‘eat’ is akal.
The Hebrew word for food is okel. It comes from the word akal.
Therefore, food in the Bible is defined only as that which God made ‘to eat’. If God did not make something to eat, then by definition it is not food. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not food. We learn more about this subject as we examine Leviticus chapter 11 further.
Leviticus 11:4-8 – “4 Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; 5 the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; 6 the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; 7 and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. 8 Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.”
Animals designated by God as not to eat are called unclean. They are simply not food. Some types of berries and plant life were not made to eat because they are harmful to your body, such as the Rosary Pea and White Snakeroot. In the same way, some types of animals were not made to eat because they can harm your body. Leviticus chapter 11 is an entire chapter on animals that are clean and hence made to eat and those which are unclean and hence not made to eat.
This gives us further insight into why Noah took more clean animals and the difference between the two categories of animals. At the end of this chapter, we will look at the different categories even closer.
A common misconception about the dietary instruction in Leviticus is that God is distinguishing between clean and unclean food. When you read the chapter, you will find out that God is distinguishing between clean and unclean animals. He only declares clean animals to be food.
The New Testament was written in Greek. However, the authors of the New Testament used the proper words in Greek that would continue the standard set by God in the Old Testament.
The Greek word translated as ‘to eat’ is bibrosko.
The Greek word for food is broma. It comes from the work bibrosko.
Another related word is brosis, which means the act of eating or consuming that which was made to eat. It also comes from bibrosko.
The word broma is listed in Strong’s Concordance as “food (literally or figuratively), especially (ceremonial) articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law: – meat, victuals.” The word broma refers directly to those things that are allowed or forbidden to be eaten according to Leviticus 11. It literally refers to the distinction between clean and unclean animals!
When broma or brosis are used in the New Testament, the writers are continuing the standard established by God in the very beginning. Often the Apostle Paul uses the Greek word broma or brosis when discussing food (see the articles on Romans 14:14-21, I Cor. 10:25-29, and Colossians 2:15-17 for examples). By using this language, Paul and other writers have already defined what kind of animal meant is being consumed (clean).
Animals that God did not make to eat are called unclean. They are unclean for us to touch or eat their dead bodies. The Hebrew word translated as ‘unclean’ is tamai, and it means moral and spiritual uncleanness. Touching or eating the dead body of an unclean animal is a moral and spiritual issue in God’s eyes, not an issue of physical uncleanness. In fact, God informs us that if we touch or eat an unclean animal, we will become tamai. This spiritual uncleanness will last until you wash with water and the next sunset is reached according to Leviticus 11:25 (sunset in the Bible marks the end of one day and the beginning of a new day).
Akathartos is the Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to the moral and spiritual uncleanness that comes from an unclean animal. Akathartos refers to something that is unclean by nature or unclean in and of itself. If a Bible passage does not use this term, then it is not referring to unclean animals. Paul informed us to avoid unclean things or akathartos (Rom. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:17). This refers to unclean animals.
In Revelation 18:2, we learn that the difference between clean and unclean will still exist at the very end of this age. Even angels acknowledge this difference. “And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”
Therefore, this distinction cannot be done away with at any time in history. In fact, the animals in Leviticus chapter 11 still have the same characteristics today that they had in ancient times.
One must always remember that this distinction between clean and unclean animals is one that God makes because of the way that He made them. In Leviticus 11, he gives four specific categories of clean animals and six categories of unclean animals. Listed below are both categories of animals with specific examples and scripture references for each:
Four categories of clean animals that God says are ‘to eat’:
1) Animals with a split hoof that also chew the cud (cows, goats, lambs) Lev. 11:3
2) Animals with both fins and scales (bass, trout, salmon) Lev. 11:9
3) Birds that are not prohibited in Leviticus 11:13-19 (chicken and turkey)
4) Insects with four legs for hopping (locusts and grasshoppers) Lev. 11:21-22
Six categories of unclean animals that God says we are not to eat or touch their carcasses:
1) Animals that do not chew the cud and that do not have a spit hoof (pigs and camels) Lev. 11:4-8
2) Sea creatures without fins and scales (catfish, shrimp, lobster, and all other shellfish) Lev. 11:9-12
3) Certain types of birds (eagles, ravens, vultures) Lev. 11:13-19
4) Flying insects that do not have jointed legs for hopping (hornets and bees) Lev. 11:20-23
5) Animals that walk on paws (panthers, dogs, cats) Lev. 11:27-28
6) Certain animals that walk on the ground or crawl on the ground (rats, weasels, lizards, snakes) Lev. 11:29-31
(For a full list of clean and unclean animals, as well as a list of unclean cooking ingredients commonly found in packaged foods, please see Clean and Unclean Animal List and Unclean Ingredient List click here).
Notice that God gave very specific signs in creation to identify these animals as clean or unclean.
For instance, unclean land animals have either a split hoof or chew the cud, but not both (pigs and camels, for example). Unclean sea creatures are identified as animals that do not have fins and scales (all shellfish, for example). In each instance, an animal was created with these biological characteristics. Thus, He literally wove the distinction between clean and unclean animals into creation itself by how each animal was made.
This does not mean that unclean animals do not have a purpose in creation. Unclean animals are scavengers and carnivores. These animals were created to clean up the earth and help keep the cycle of life flowing for all creation. These animals are good for creation, but they were not created for the human body. Diesel fuel is not fit for an unleaded gas tank. In the same way, unclean animals are not fit for the human body. This is very similar to some plant life that was not created for human consumption.
Ultimately, we must first realize that Jesus is the one who created clean and unclean animals. John 1:1-3,14 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In these verses, John wrote that everything was made by Jesus Christ. He was the one who made some animals clean and others unclean. He would have to undo the original work of creation to change unclean animals into clean animals. He would have to un-do the entire law of biogenesis. Since these animals still have the same characteristics today that they have always had, clearly Jesus did not change them.
God gave us these precious instructions for our benefit. There are spiritual and physical benefits to following them.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President www.biblesabbath.org