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The Distinction between Clean and Unclean Animals

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Archives / 1968 / February

 

 

The Distinction between Clean and Unclean Animals

Robert L. Odom

R.L. ODOM, Research Consultant, General Conference

 

 

 

An employee of the United States Government telephoned me and said he was having lunch with two friends in a cafeteria in Washington, D.C., and he added: "In our conversation, mention was made of Seventh-day Adventists and we began to wonder why they consider the flesh of pigs and certain other animals un­suitable for food. One of us thought he knew why and gave his explanation. The other friend gave a different reason for it. So I said, 'I'm going to call them right now to get it straight.' Would you please give me your explanation?"

At another time a colonel occupying an important command post in the armed forces of the United States called and said, in substance: "I wish you would give me the title of a book that explains why Sev­enth-day Adventists believe that certain animals are fit for food and that certain others are not. I have met several men of your faith and asked them about this, but none of them has been able to give me a clear explanation. Where can I get a book that clearly explains your faith and prac­tice on that subject?"

Protection, Ceremony, Arbitrariness

Some Bible commentators teach that the law making a distinction between clean and unclean animals, insofar as food is concerned, was a regulation arbitrarily im­posed by God to discipline recently liber­ated slaves who were still rebellious people. Others suppose it was merely a cere­monial measure designed to teach or illus­trate spiritual lessons. Others hold that it was a legalistic device given to the Jews as a means by which they might develop holi­ness as a result of obeying it. Very few Jewish teachers today think of it as de­signed to protect or promote health.

Health Safeguard

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the distinction made between clean and un­clean animals, insofar as eating them for food is concerned, was intended by the Lord to safeguard the health of His peo­ple. We do not believe that it was pri­marily designed to be either arbitrary or ceremonial in its application. The Scrip­tures tell us that "the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Ps. 84: 11). In all that He requires of us, and in all that He forbids us to do, our heavenly Father has our welfare at heart. The fol­lowing statements, penned by Ellen G. White, represent Seventh-day Adventist thinking on the subject:

"His [God's] prohibitions and injunc­tions are not intended merely to display His authority, but in all that He does He has the well-being of His children in view. He does not require them to give up any­thing that it would be for their best inter­est to retain."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 600.

"The distinction between articles of food as clean and unclean was not a merely ceremonial and arbitrary regulation, but was based upon sanitary principles. To the observance of this distinction may be traced, in a great degree, the marvelous vitality which for thousands of years has distinguished the Jewish people."—Ibid., p. 562.

"Many articles of food eaten freely by the heathen about them were forbidden to the Israelites. It was no arbitrary dis­tinction that was made. The things pro­hibited were unwholesome. And the fact that they were pronounced unclean taught the lesson that the use of injurious foods is defiling."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 280.

"God did not prohibit the Hebrews from eating swine's flesh merely to show His authority, but because it is not a proper article of food for man."—Coun­sels on Health, p. 116.

"In the directions given through Moses it was forbidden to eat any unclean thing. The use of swine's flesh, and the flesh of certain other animals, was prohibited, as likely to fill the blood with impurities, and to shorten life."—The Desire of Ages, p. 617.

"God forbade the eating of unclean beasts, not to exercise an arbitrary author­ity, but to preserve the life and health of His people. In order for them to retain their faculties of mind and body, it was necessary that their blood should be kept pure, by eating simple, healthful food. He therefore specified the animals least ob­jectionable for food."—"The Sins of the Pharisees," in Signs of the Times, March 21, 1878, p. 89.

Not Arbitrary but for Our Good

Note that the following reasons are given, in those statements, as to why the flesh of the unclean animals should not be used for food:

  1. "The things prohibited were un­wholesome."
  2. "The use of injurious foods is defil­ing."
  3. "It is not a proper article of food for man."
  4. It would be injurious to those who should eat it.
  5. They were not the best articles of food.
  6. "Likely to fill the blood with impuri­ties."
  7. "Likely . . . to shorten life."

Furthermore, the Lord's ban against the use of the flesh of unclean animals as food was:

  1. "No arbitrary distinction."
  2. "Not to exercise an arbitrary author­ity."
  3. "Not because He wished to especially show His authority."
  4. "Not . . . to show His authority."
  5. "Not a merely ceremonial and arbi­trary regulation."
  6. "Based upon sanitary principles."
  7. "To preserve the life and health of His people.

 Meaning of Peter's Vision

An apostate elder who had joined an offshoot told me before a group of people one day that Bible references to clean and unclean animals were merely symbolic language. He cited Peter's vision of a sheetful of unclean animals (Acts 10:9­15), and how a voice from heaven said to him: "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (verse 15). Peter later explained it by saying: "God hath shewecl me that I should not call any man com­mon or unclean" (verse 28). "Therefore," said the apostate, "when the Bible speaks of animals as unclean, it refers to sinners, to people whose hearts are unclean be­cause of sin."

In comment on Peter's vision, the Spirit of Prophecy says: "Some have urged that this vision was to signify that God had re­moved His prohibition from the use of the flesh of animals which He had formerly pronounced unclean; and that therefore swines' flesh was fit for food. This is a very narrow, and altogether erroneous interpre­tation, and is plainly contradicted in the scriptural account of the vision and its consequences."—The spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, pp. 327, 328; The Story of Redemp­tion, p. 285.

I asked that man to turn to Genesis 7: 2, 3, 8, 9, and explain, according to his reasoning, why the Lord would have Noah preserve two pairs of every kind of un­clean animal in the ark during the Flood, if by such language He meant sinful men and women. I requested him to turn also to Genesis 8:20 and explain, according to his theory, why Noah "took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar," if such ani­mals really were people whose hearts were clean. After stammering a few moments, the man confessed that he could not ex­plain those texts.

In the symbolic vision given to Peter (Acts 10:9-15, 28) the unclean animals cleansed by the Lord did represent Gen­tile sinners whose hearts the Lord had cleansed from sin, but whom certain non-Christian and Christian Jews regarded as common or unclean (Acts 10:28; 11:1-18). However, Peter himself said: "I have never eaten any thing that is common or un­clean" (chap. 10, verse 14). When he said that, Peter was a Christian minister, who had been ordained as an apostle by Christ Himself about two years before His death.

In Matthew 23:24 Jesus speaks of cer­tain religious teachers "which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." The signifi­cance of that statement is well set forth in the following comment by Ellen G. White:

"The Jews read in the requirements given to Moses that nothing unclean should be eaten. God specified the beasts that were unfit for food, and forbade the use of swine's flesh and the flesh of certain other animals, as likely to fill the blood with impurities and shorten life. But the Pharisees did not leave these restrictions where God had left them. They carried them to unwarranted extremes; among other things the people were required to strain all the water used, lest it might con­tain the smallest insect, undiscernible to the eye, which might be classed with the unclean animals. Jesus, in contrasting those trivial exactions of external cleanli­ness with the magnitude of their actual sins, said to the Pharisees, 'Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!'" —The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, pp. 63, 64. See also The Desire of Ages, p. 617.

"The leading Jews who delighted in teaching and in administering the law, car­ried the prohibitions of God to unreason­able lengths, making life a burden of cere­monies and restrictions. . . ."—"The Sins of the Pharisees," in Signs of the Times, March 21, 1878, p. 89.

(To be continued)

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