Is Leviticus 11 Just for Jewish People?
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
There are some who claim that the dietary distinction between clean and unclean animals was only given to the Jewish people or Israelite nation. What does the Bible say?
The first reference in the Bible to the distinction between clean and unclean animals is in Genesis 7:1-2, 7-8.
“1 And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. 2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female… 7 And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth…”
In these verses, we must remember that God is speaking. As children, many of us were taught that Noah only brought two pairs of all the animals in the Ark. This is incorrect. God said that seven pairs of clean animals were to be brought into the ark and two pairs of the unclean animals. Noah did not have to ask God for more instructions on what it meant to distinguish between the two. He simply knew the difference, which means that it was known before the flood.
Noah was not Jewish or Israelite. After the flood, Noah used some of the clean animals to make a sacrifice unto God. Once again, this affirms that Noah already knew that some of these animals could be made a sacrifice to God.
“20 And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done” (Gen. 8:20-21).
God accepted the sacrifice of the clean animals by Noah. This also shows that even at that time God had a special purpose for clean animals as part of honoring Him.
The nation of Israel was set apart to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:4-6). They were supposed to be the example and spread God’s ideal way of life to the rest of the world. This has similar parallels to Noah, who was chosen to be God’s representative to the world in his time.
In Leviticus 11, God revealed to the Israelites the distinction between clean and unclean animals. They had been in Egypt for 400 years and apparently lost this knowledge. He pointed out to them the biological characteristics that distinguish clean from unclean animals (click here to read the article: “How Does God Define Food?”). This affirms that these animals were made that way in the beginning.
The main reason for this instruction was so that His people could be set apart as holy from the rest of the nations around them. “44 For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44-45).
Remember that all things were made through Christ (John 1:1-3, Col. 1:15-17); this includes clean and unclean animals. He never abolished it in any form or fashion. When the gospel message went to the Gentiles, the early disciples continued to teach the difference between clean and unclean. I have listed some references below:
“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity (literally, lawlessness after lawlessness); even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Rom. 6:19).
“17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1).
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15-16, NIV).
Often when a writer of the New Testament refers to being holy, it includes obedience to the difference between clean and unclean. This is continuing the example set by God in Leviticus 11. Peter even quoted Leviticus 11:44-45 in his first letter.
Even angels know the difference between clean and unclean animals. “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird” (Rev. 18:1-2). This verse refers to the very end of this age; even then the difference between clean and unclean will still exist (which means it has never been and will never be negated).
The difference between clean and unclean is found from Genesis through Revelation. It is still applicable today for all people, but especially those who are called and set apart from the rest of the world to be God’s ambassadors. This was true for Noah, Israel, and Christians today.
All verses King James Version unless otherwise noted.
Kelly McDonald, Jr. is President of the BSA (www.biblesabbath.org)