God's Food Laws
We believe that those meats that are designated "unclean" by God in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are not to be eaten.
Scripture reveals that God created the vast array of animal life that inhabits our planet and further states that some animals were created for the specific purpose of providing food for mankind (1 Timothy 4:3). Although a Christian is not obligated to eat any meats, vegetarianism in its various forms, if practiced as a matter of religious requirement, is considered to be a spiritual weakness (Romans 14:2).
There is no clear statement as to when God first revealed the difference between those animals that are designated "clean" and those that are not. The absence of a clear command on this matter should not be taken as proof that no instruction was given. There are few clear commands in the early pages of the Bible, but the examples that are recorded reveal that standards of right and wrong were clearly understood. For example, there is no clear command against murder before Cain's murder of his brother, Abel, but no one would conclude that murder was therefore acceptable before this point. The book of Genesis can be described as a book of beginnings. This book was written by Moses to provide a historical record of what took place, not as a book of laws. Readers should not assume that the law has not been in existence from the beginning.
The first statement in Scripture concerning "clean" and "unclean" animals is found in Genesis 7:2, where Noah is commanded to take seven (or seven pairs of) clean animals and only one pair of unclean animals. When God told Noah to build a giant ark, He gave explicit instructions on its size, composition and design, yet God saw no need to instruct Noah about which creatures were clean and which were unclean. God's instruction and Noah's response clearly indicate that Noah understood which creatures were clean and which were not.
At the conclusion of the great flood, God told Noah: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs" (Genesis 9:3). The point being made in the preceding verse is that, even though there were few men left alive, and large and dangerous animals had been preserved, Noah and his family had no need to fear these animals.
Verse 3 shows that the animals were to be for man's benefit. They were given into man's control in the same way the green plants were given. Some green plants are suitable for food, some are suitable for building materials, some are for beautification and enjoyment, and some are poisonous and can sicken and bring death when ingested. In the same way, some animals are useful for providing food, while others provide fibers for clothing, strength for working the land or protection from dangers.
Whenever animals are mentioned in Scripture as a food source or in connection with sacrifice before Mount Sinai, they are invariably clean animals (Genesis 15:9—cow, goat, sheep, dove and pigeon; Genesis 22:13—sheep; Exodus 12:5—sheep or goat). The law of clean and unclean meats clearly predates the Old Covenant, regardless of what role they may have played within that covenant.
When the Levitical system was established, it was necessary to codify a number of matters that had already been in effect for some time. Two passages of Scripture, Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21, make clear which creatures are set apart as suitable for food and which are not, though these passages merely codify practices that long antedated the Levitical system. The term used to designate those animals whose flesh is acceptable for food is clean, while the term used for those that are not suitable for food is unclean.
Scripture does not reveal exactly why God designated certain animal flesh as suitable for food while other flesh was not acceptable. Whatever the reasons, God knows why and how He created each animal, and He designates certain substances as good for food and others as unacceptable.
Various passages in the New Testament indicate that the laws of clean and unclean meats were still being observed by Jesus Christ and His followers. As eager as the religious leaders were to accuse Jesus of violating their interpretations of religious law, there is no record that they ever confronted Him about His teachings or practices on this matter. Had He advocated eating unclean meats, it would have been an ideal way to besmirch His reputation with the masses, since they would have been appalled at such an idea. Jesus' words in the oft-misquoted passage in Mark 7 would have outraged the religious leaders, had they interpreted His statement the way many people try to explain it today. The use of Mark 7 as a basis for eating unclean meats is founded on a different use of grammar that is found in only a few of the Greek manuscripts.
Acts 10 powerfully illustrates the early New Testament Church's understanding about clean and unclean meats, although this is not the primary purpose behind the vision. Peter received a vision from God that instructed him to take the gospel message to the nations and peoples outside the Jewish community. During this vision, Peter three times refused to partake of the unclean animals shown him and remained puzzled about the meaning of the vision until God revealed that it was about people and not about clean and unclean animals. It was revealed to Peter that no man should be considered "common or unclean" (verses 28-29).
This chapter ends with the Holy Spirit being given to the household of Cornelius as proof that the gospel was now going to all nations (verses 44-48). Although this section of Scripture has been used as permission to eat unclean animals, it clearly indicates the opposite. This event took place several years into the history of the New Testament Church, yet Peter rejected the idea of eating unclean meat, even going so far as protesting that he had "never eaten anything that is common or unclean" (verse 14).
Paul wrote of creatures "which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" and described these creatures as "sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:3, 5). The word used to describe these creatures, sanctified, carries the dual connotation of being set apart from something as well as being set apart for something. The clean animals are those that have clearly been set apart by the Word of God from all other animals and can be used for man's nourishment. The flesh of those creatures that are designated as suitable for food is to be received thankfully by those who believe and know the truth.
Therefore, the United Church of God teaches abstinence from unclean meats based on the above-stated instructions and examples.
(For more details, request What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats?)
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