Clean and Unclean Foods in the Bible (With Photos)

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Clean and Unclean Animals in the Bible

It’s no wonder why many people dedicate their entire lives to studying the stories of the Bible. In addition to it being the single source of truth to guide our Christian lives, it provides us with an incredible history lesson that connects the dots from the beginning days of creation and gives a future prophecy about the end of times. One area of interest, in particular for many scholars and everyday people, is learning about clean and unclean foods in the Bible, according to Old Testament law.

In this article, we will examine clean and unclean foods in the Bible between the time of the Israelite exodus from Egypt and the arrival of Jesus Christ. 

What does it mean to be clean or unclean in the Bible?

What does it mean to be clean or unclean in the Bible?

Throughout much of the Old Testament, Moses, who was the man chosen by God to lead the Israelite exodus out of Egyptian slavery, spent much of his time delivering instructions from God to His large caravan of followers. During this time in the wilderness, God provided many laws and regulations that governed how people were supposed to conduct themselves.

Being clean in the Old Testament refers to abstaining from acts that defile one’s body, causing them to be unholy in the sight of the Lord. Also, a key tenant of cleanliness was for the Israelites to distinguish themselves from every other ethnic nation by living to a higher standard. In the Book of Leviticus 20:24-26, God explains the future plans He has for the Israelites, but also why He has called for them to make a distinction between clean and unclean animals:

Bible Verse Reference24 But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. 25 “ ‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. 26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

It is important to note that God is perfect in every way, and thus, to be acceptable in His sight, the Jews were required to live righteous, holy, and resist the detestable practices of other nations. Let’s examine the foods that God classified as unclean under Hebrew law.

Clean and unclean foods in the Old Testament

Unclean foods in the Old Testament

When many people think about God today, often, it can be in the form of an all-encompassing, abstract, or undefinable concept. And while there are many aspects of God’s deity that cannot be understood by human-logic, in fact, throughout the Bible, God is incredibly specific on not only who He is but also what He expects from his people. During a conversation with Moses and his brother Aaron, God gave detailed criteria, with examples, of the types of foods that should be classified as unclean and shouldn’t be eaten. Below is a list of unclean food categories as defined in Leviticus 11:

Unclean animals that live on land

Unclean animals that live on land according to God

Land animals that are considered clean if they have a divided hoof and chews the cud. Thus, any land animal that doesn’t meet both of these criteria is ceremonially unclean, such as pigs. Below are the examples that God gave Moses about unclean land animals:

Animal Chews Cud? Divided Hoof? Clean or Unclean
Camels Yes No Unclean
Hyrax Yes No Unclean
Rabbit Yes No Unclean
Pig No Yes Unclean

Also, the Jews should have refrained from even touching the dead carcasses of these animals, which could also make them unclean.

Clean animals that live on land

Clean animals that live on land according to God

Below are some examples of clean land animals that would meet these criteria:

Animal Chews Cud? Divided Hoof? Clean or Unclean
Beef Yes Yes Clean
Goat Yes Yes Clean
Lamb Yes Yes Clean
Deer Yes Yes Clean

Unclean creatures that live in water or sea

Unclean sea creatures according to God

Creatures that live in the water have a different set of criteria that determine their suitability to be eaten. God defines water or sea creatures with fins and scales as being clean, and anything that doesn’t meet those criteria is ceremonially unclean. In this case, God doesn’t provide specific examples; however, below are some examples of unclean aquatic animals:

Sea Creature Fins? Scales? Clean or Unclean
Crab No No Unclean
Turtles No No Unclean
Oysters No No Unclean
Dolphins Yes No Unclean

Clean creatures that live in water or sea

Clean sea creatures according to God

Below are some examples of clean sea creatures that would meet these criteria:

Sea Creature Fins? Scales? Clean or Unclean
Tuna Yes Yes Clean
Trout Yes Yes Clean
Salmon Yes Yes Clean
Catfish Yes Yes Clean

Unclean birds

Unclean birds according to God

God tells Moses that a distinction also must be made between clean and unclean birds. Below are the specific examples God gives about unclean birds:

Bird Clean or Unclean
Eagles Unclean
Vultures Unclean
Black Vultures Unclean
Red Kites Unclean
Black Kites Unclean
Ravens Unclean
Horned Owl Unclean
Screech Owl Unclean
Gulls Unclean
Hawks Unclean
Little Owls Unclean
Cormorant Unclean
Great Owls Unclean
White Owl Unclean
Desert Owl Unclean
Osprey Unclean
Stork Unclean
Heron Unclean
Hoopoe Unclean
Bat Unclean

Clean birds

Clean birds according to God

Below are some examples of clean birds that are ok to eat because they are not called out specifically by God as being forbidden:

Bird Clean or Unclean
Chicken Clean
Turkey Clean
Pheasant Clean
Duck Clean

Unclean insects

Unclean insects according to God

Insects are also not exempt from being placed into their own categories under the Hebrew law. In Leviticus 11:20, God says that “all flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean by you.” While there has been much recent scientific debate regarding whether or not insects have four legs, we know that the Bible is the ultimate source of truth. God doesn’t give specific names of unclean insects, however here are a few that would fall into this category.

Insects Clean or Unclean
Dragon Flies Unclean
Bees Unclean
Moths Unclean
Hornets Unclean

Clean insects

Clean insects according to God

While the vast majority of all insects are designated to be unclean, there are a few exceptions made in Leviticus 11:21-23. Below are the specific insects that are considered to be clean.

Insects Clean or Unclean
Locust Clean
Katydid Clean
Cricket Clean
Grasshoppers Clean

Animals with four legs and paws

Four legged animals with paws are unclean according to God

Leviticus 11:27 tells us that all animals that walk on all fours and those walking on their paws are ceremonially unclean. God doesn’t provide specific names here, however here are some examples that would fall under this category:

Animal Four legs? Has Paws? Clean or Unclean
Bear Yes Yes Unclean
Panther Yes Yes Unclean
Lion Yes Yes Unclean
Cheetah Yes Yes Unclean

Unclean animals that move along the ground

Animals that move along the ground are unclean according to God

In Leviticus 11:29, God highlights the specific animals and reptiles that were designated as being unclean. However, it is important to note that in Leviticus 41-42, God says that “Every creature that moves along the ground is to be regarded as unclean, and it is not to be eaten. You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean.”

Animal Clean or Unclean
Weasels Unclean
Rats Unclean
Great Lizards Unclean
Geckos Unclean
Monitor Lizard Unclean
Wall Lizard Unclean
Skink Unclean
Chameleon Unclean

Dead animals

Dead animals are unclean according to God

Regardless of the species, The Old Testament bible declared that the eating of dead animals was strictly prohibited. Leviticus 22:8 says, “He must not eat anything found dead or torn by wild animals, and so become unclean through it. I am the Lord.” So much so that if the carcass of a dead animal were to touch other items such as cookware or seeds, those would also become unclean.

Clean and unclean foods in the Bible

God established dietary laws for the Jewish people in one sense to protect them from falling out of his favor. If you remember from your Sunday school teachings, God actually lived with the Israelites during a moment in their history while in the desert wilderness. For them to be suitable in His presence, God established rules that could make His people righteous holy. As we Christians begin to examine our own lives and the intersection of our faith and diet, understanding clean and unclean foods in the Bible gives us some insight into how God viewed certain animals during the Old Testament days.

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