What Are Clean and Unclean Foods?
“…you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.”
What are clean and unclean foods in the Bible? Why does it matter? How can we tell the difference between the two?
God created two basic classes of animals in relation to man’s diet. Those that benefit our health are called clean foods and those that do not (they are a detriment to our health and well being) are labeled in the Bible as unclean. We find this critical information regarding which meats are good for us (clean) and which are not (unclean) in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.
In spite of what many believers think, the Bible does not, in the Old or New Testaments, abolish or do away with God’s laws about foods that he created either to be eaten (clean) or avoided (unclean).
For example, in Mark 7, the dispute between the Pharisees and Christ did not concern the issue of which foods were clean or unclean. It involved whether the disciples could eat a few grains of food without having to ceremonially wash their hands several times!
Peter’s vision in Acts 10, commonly thought to make all unclean foods fit for consumption, was God’s way of conveying to bigoted Peter that no human was worth less than others!
Paul the apostle also upheld the Biblical laws regarding what is good or clean, and what is not good or unclean, to eat as still being valid for believers (1Timothy 4:1 – 3). He showed that while some things were made for us to ingest others clearly were not.
Below is a list of common meats and fishes divided by whether the Bible considers them clean or unclean to eat. Please note that this list does not denote every animal or insect in existence and where it is classified. When in doubt, it is best to consider a meat unfit for human consumption.
MEATS THAT ARE GOOD TO EAT
Clean Land Animals
Antelope – Buffalo – Caribou – Cattle (Beef, Veal) – Deer – Elk – Gazelle – Giraffe – Goat – Hart – Ibex – Moose – Ox – Reindeer – Sheep
Chicken – Dove – Duck – Goose – Grouse – Guinea fowl – Partridge – Peafowl – Pheasant – Pigeon – Prairie chicken – Ptarmigan – Quail – Sagehen – Sparrow (plus any other songbirds) – Swan – Teal – Turkey
Clean insects include types of locusts that may include crickets and grasshoppers
Albacore (Crevalle, Horse Mackerel, Jack) – Alewives (Branch, River Herring) – Anchovy – Barracuda – Bass – Black Drum – Black Pomfret (Monchong) – Blue Runner (Hardtail) – Bluebacks (Glut Herrings) – Bluebill Sunfish – Bluefish – Bluegill – Bonitos – Bowfin – Buffalofish – Carp – Chubs (Bloater, Longjaw, Blackfin) – Cod – Common Sucker (Fresh Water Mullet, White Sucker) – Crappie (Black or White Crappies)
Drum – Flounder (Dab, Gray, Lemon Sole, Summer – Grouper (Black, Nassau, Red, or Yellowfish Grouper, Gag) – Grunt (White / Yellow Grunts) – Gulf Pike (Robalo, Snook, Sergeant) – Haddock – Hake – Halibut – Hardhead – Hardtail (Blue Runner) – Herring (Alewife, Branch, Glut. Lake, River, Sea Herrings)
Kingfish – Long Nose Sucker (Northern or Red Striped Sucker) – Mackerel (Cobia) – Mahimahi (Dorado, Dolphinfish) – Menhaden – Minnow – Mullet – Muskellunge (Jacks) – Orange Roughy – Perch (Bream) – Pig Fish – Pike (Pickerel, Jack) – Pollack (Pollock, Boston Bluefish) – Pompano – Porgy (Scup)
Red Drum (Redfish) – Red Horse Sucker (Redfin) – Red Snapper – Redfish – Robalo (Gulf Pike) – Rockfish – Salmon (Chum, Coho, King, Pink or Red) – Sardine (Pilchard) – Scup (Porgy) – Sea Bass – Sergeant Fish (Gulf Pike) – Shad – Sheepshead – Silver Hake (Whiting) – Silversides – Smelt – Snapper – Snook (Gulf Pike) – Sole – Spanish Mackerel – Steelhead – Striped Bass – Sucker (Red Horse Sucker, Redfin) – Sunfish
Tarpon – Trout (Gray Sea, Lake, Sand Sea, White Sea, Spotted Sea Trouts, Weakfish) – Tuna – Turbot (all except European variety) – Whitefish – Whiting (Silver Hake) – Winter Flounder, Yellow Tail – Yellow Perch
MEATS THAT ARE NOT GOOD TO EAT
Unclean Land Animals
Armadillo – Ass – Badger – Bear – Beaver – Boar – Camel – Cat – Cheetah – Coyote – Dog – Donkey – Elephant – Fox – Gorilla – Groundhog – Hare – Hippopotamus – Horse – Hyena
Jackal – Kangaroo – Leopard – Lion – Llama (alpaca, vicuña) – Mole – Monkey – Mouse – Mule – Muskrat – Onager – Opossum – Panther – Peccary – Pig (hog, bacon, ham, lard, pork) – Porcupine
Rabbit – Raccoon – Rat – Rhinoceros – Skunk – Slug – Snail (escargot) – Squirrel – Tiger – Wallaby – Weasel – Wolf – Wolverine – Worm – Zebra
Albatross – Bat – Bittern – Buzzard – Condor – Coot – Cormorant – Crane – Crow – Cuckoo – Eagle – Flamingo – Grebe – Grosbeak – Gull – Hawk – Heron – Kite – Lapwing – Loon – Magpie
Osprey – Ostrich – Owl – Parrot – Pelican – Penguin – Plover – Rail – Raven – Roadrunner- Sandpiper – Seagull – Stork – Swallow – Swift – Vulture – Water Hen – Woodpecker
All insects except some in the locust family should not be consumed.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Alligator – Blindworm – Caiman – Crocodile – Frogs – Lizard – Newts – Salamanders – Snakes – Toads – Turtles
Unclean Fish and Marine Animals
Abalone – Bullhead – Catfish – Clam – Crab – Crayfish – Cuttlefish – Dolphin – Eel – European Turbot – Jellyfish – Limpet – Lobsters – Marlin – Mussels
Octopus – Otter – Oysters – Paddlefish – Porpoise – Prawn – Scallop – Seal – Shark – Shrimp – Squid (calamari) – Stickleback – Sturgeon – Swordfish – Walrus – Whale
Most Relevant Verses
You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female;
If, however, it is any unclean animal of the kind which men do not present as an offering to the Lord, then he shall place the animal before the priest. The priest shall value it as either good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be.
But if it is among the unclean animals, then he shall redeem it according to your valuation and add to it one-fifth of it; and if it is not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your valuation.
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’
‘Also the flesh that touches anything unclean shall not be eaten; it shall be burned with fire. As for other flesh, anyone who is clean may eat such flesh.
Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places;
Who eat swine’s flesh,
And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots.
2 Peter 2:22
It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”
You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’
And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.
Also whatever walks on its paws, among all the creatures that walk on all fours, are unclean to you; whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening,
Whatever crawls on its belly, and whatever walks on all fours, whatever has many feet, in respect to every swarming thing that swarms on the earth, you shall not eat them, for they are detestable.
But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you,
Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you.
but anything that does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.
Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these, among those which chew the cud, or among those which divide the hoof: the camel, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you.
Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit and the shaphan, for though they chew the cud, they do not divide the hoof; they are unclean for you.
Likewise, the shaphan, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you;
the rabbit also, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you;
and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you.
The pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses.
Bible Food Laws
There are so many diseases afflicting God’s people today that it seems imperative to remind everyone of God’s Divine Food Laws listed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. God loves His children and wants them to be healthy, which is why He gave us these dietary laws in the first place. The Jewish people outwardly keep the food laws, even though God through Moses did not give these laws to them. The Christian Israelites eat all manner of unclean foods (bacon, ham, pork chops, shrimp, clams, shellfish, oysters, rabbit, squirrel, catfish) since they have been taught that the food laws have been somehow abolished by the crucifixion of Jesus, even though their ancestors were the only people ever given instructions by God as to what foods to eat and not eat.
The most familiar Biblical health laws define clean and unclean meats (creatures that are acceptable to eat and those that are not) yet most people (even theologians!) have little or no understanding of the medically sound reasons behind these instructions! The scientific wisdom behind the Biblical dietary laws is seldom taught today; instead, these laws are commonly viewed as Old Testament regulations that are no longer applicable. However these lists of clean and unclean creatures have a significance often ignored. Far from being based on fad or fancy, these lists emphasize a fact not discovered until late in the last century – that animals carry diseases dangerous to man. In fact, the same animals labeled unclean in Scripture still carry parasitic diseases that are still dangerous to man today!
“Clean” land animals are ruminants – grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, deer and elk – whose digestive tracts are designed to turn grass that man cannot digest into meat that we can digest. Most unclean animals are carnivores or scavengers that can transmit dangerous diseases to man. Pigs eat roots and grains, rather than grass, and thus are ecological competitors to man. Clean fish have fins and scales. Unclean aquatic organisms like clams and oysters are filter feeders that purify water, and that concentrate poisonous chemicals and pathologic bacteria and viruses in their tissues. Eating an oyster is like eating your vacuum cleaner bag, yet modern connoisseurs do not like to think about this! Crabs and lobsters are scavengers that eat dead things on the bottom of bodies of water. Most unclean birds are carnivores or scavengers. God in His wisdom inspired laws that protect us from contracting dangerous diseases, but also protect “nature’s clean up crew” by making them “off limits” as food for us. These biological principles still operate today.
Pigs are gluttonous, never knowing when to stop eating. Their stomach acids become diluted because of the volume of food, allowing all kinds vermin to pass through this protective barrier. Parasites, bacteria, viruses and toxins can pass into the pig’s flesh because of overeating. These toxins and infectious agents can be passed on to man when we eat pig. In the United States, three of the six most common food-borne parasitic diseases of people are associated with pork consumption. These include toxoplasmosis, taeniasis or cysticercosis (caused by the pork tapeworm) and trichinellosis. It has long been recognized that the meat of shellfish; shrimp, crabs, lobsters, etc. is especially dangerous. Many illnesses, including instant paralysis, devastate some people every day as a result of eating shellfish.
However, the laws of clean and unclean meats are not the only Biblical instructions that concern diet. In Leviticus 3:17, we read, “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations, throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.” One of the most significant discoveries in the last century was that high fat diets are linked to increased levels of heart disease, stroke, cancer of the colon and breast and a host of other pathologies – including obesity – that bring additional complications. Our challenge is to learn to recognize major sources of fat in our diet (visible fats on meat, fatty cuts of meat, fast food, frozen meals, etc.), and reduce our intake of fats that are high in calories. It has also become painfully obvious in recent decades that contaminated blood and blood products can transmit AIDS and hepatitis. The simple principle of avoiding fat and blood is a powerful principle of prevention (if it is followed) because it still works today!
Can we eat the liver and kidneys of clean animals? Before we move ahead with the issue, let us first understand that this is not a Salvation issue. The food laws are there for our health, not for us to divide and attack each other over. We believe that it is Biblically wrong and unhealthy for us to eat the caul of the liver and kidneys of animals. Remember, according to these verses in Leviticus 1-9, the fat, the caul that is above the liver, and kidneys were to be burned. Are we to assume that the priests burnt the fat, the caul of the liver, and kidneys and then ate them? This simply does not add up, especially when the Bible clearly forbids man to eat “the fat” except when the fat is mingled with the flesh or muscle. All meat has some fat in it, including the choicest of steaks. The priest was to detach all the separable portions of the fat such as the flare, and that in which the intestines, kidney, and liver are embedded. These portions were then burnt with the daily offering. The fat was chiefly found in a detached state, sometimes referred to as the omentum, or caul.
Biblical principles also cover the use of plant foods – carbohydrates. Ezekiel was instructed to make a nutritious bread from “wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt” (Ezekiel 4:9). This was a multigrain bread containing complex carbohydrates for energy, different kinds of fibre and multiple amino acids for proteins and bodybuilding. It was not a highly refined product like today’s common breads that have most of their nutrients removed, then are misleadingly called “enriched” when a few nutrients are added back.
The Bible advises us to use sweets like honey or other simple sugars sparingly (Proverbs 25:16; 27). We are warned against overeating – gluttony (Proverbs 28:7). Modern books on health give the same advice! The Biblical dietary guidelines are not old-fashioned, burdensome regulations – they are divinely inspired guidelines that have taken mankind’s science thousands of years to understand.
God repeatedly promised His people that if they would hearken unto His voice, and “do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes” that He would not put any of these diseases that He had put upon the Egyptians (Exodus 15:26); “And the LORD will take away from thee ALL SICKNESS, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee, but will lay them upon all those who hate thee” (Deuteronomy 7:15).
FROM ONE OF OUR READERS
“Hi, I’d like to comment on your internet page concerning the Biblical Food Laws. I myself am quite familiar with the Biblical Food Laws having being reared up with them, but for those new to the concept, you might want to make a simplified set of instructions on what to eat and what not to eat especially for mammals, fish and the issue of mushrooms. I must add that your reasons for not eating pig is well explained, even for the more simple-minded or those new to clean eating.
In short, the only meats covered by the Food Laws are Mammals, Birds and Fish.
For starters, with the exception of the Locusts and relatives capable of hopping (scientific order Orthoptera), ALL invertebrates are off-limits (e.g. Crab, Oyster, Lobster, Calamari, Octopus, Sea Urchin, Beche-de-mere (Sea Cucumbers), Prawns, Langoustine, Cockles, Snail, etc). Grasshoppers are classified along with mammals; they must have split hooves (Locust feet are hard and divided through the middle like a hoof) and chew the cud (which Locusts and Grasshoppers do, and as mentioned above, they must also have hopping legs).
As for vertebrates (creatures with a backbone or spine), only Fish, Birds and Mammals are edible. Unfortunately for the French who are known for eating Frogs legs, Amphibians (Frogs, Toads, Caecilians, Newts and Salamanders) and Reptiles are strictly off-limits. Contrary to common misconceptions, Skates, Lampreys, Sturgeons, Rays and Sharks ARE NOT FISH despite first appearances. Their backbones are made from cartilage or gristle, which leaves them outside the food laws for fish and therefore inedible (in other words, “Flake” is off the menu).
Fish are very simple to classify as food or not. In short, they must have scales and fins with rays (the linear patterns on the fins of most fish). Some unclean fish include Swordfish and its allies (Marlin and Sailfish), Eels, Sun Fish or Mola Mola, etc. I’ve heard of some people doubting the Tuna as a clean fish, but although some may be lead to believe that from its initial appearance, Tuna does have scales, and so they are a prime, clean, eating fish. Flatfish such as Flounder and Sole are often described as “bottom feeders” but despite the name, they eat the same diet as most other fish and do not eat rotting or dead tissue in the wild.
The only edible mammals are from the scientific classification Pecora which includes Antelope, Sheep, Goats, Cattle, etc. Though very similar to edible mammals, the Mouse Deer in not in the classification Pecora and has an internal anatomy more similar to a Pig and would therefore be unclean. In short, the edible mammals sit in five families classified under Pecora. These are, Giraffidae (the Giraffe and Okapi), Antilocapridae (the Pronghorn), Moschidae (Musk Deer), Cervidae (Deer, Caribou, Pudu and Moose) and Bovidae (Cattle, Goats, Sheep and Antelope).
Birds are more difficult to classify, but in short, unclean birds include Birds of Prey and Scavengers (Eagles, Vultures, Secretary Birds, Owls, Frogmouths, Hawks, Falcons, Ravens, Crows, etc.) and Water Fowl that eat fish or insects (Herons, Sea Gulls, Egrets, Kingfishers, etc.). Many other birds are potentially clean or unclean but to be on the safe side, try to only eat birds from scientific orders Galliformes and Anseriformes. Galliformes are simply Chickens, Pheasants, Guinea Fowl, Quail and other similar birds, and Anseriformes are simply Ducks, Screamers, Geese and Swans. (Some translations list the Swan as an unclean animal; however this is a mistranslation, Ed.)
That covered, when eating clean animals, they must have been killed by man and not have died in the field from natural causes. Animals killed by predators are also tainted and inedible.
Concerning parts of an animal that can be eaten, fat tissue is to be removed if possible and blood products are also unclean such as blood pudding and blood sausage.
Often overlooked by many is that all the internals of an animal (guts) are unclean, including the liver, kidneys, stomach (tripe), brains, eyes, lungs, Thyroid and Thymus glands (referred to as sweetbreads), Intestines (sometimes used as sausage skins) and anything from within the head, neck or body cavity. This is also to be taken into consideration when eating locust-like creatures. Only the hopping legs (which is why that is a stipulation when eating them) are made up of muscle of good enough mass to be eaten; the head and body are pure guts with the exception of the flight muscles on the inside of some large locusts’ thoraxes. (They must be cooked as well; the shell will turn red or purple when done).
Products from unclean animals are also to be avoided; be it dairy, gelatine from pig skin or hooves, fat and grease (such as bacon grease or whale oil), and even leather or other non-food products.
A major issue that also needs to be mentioned is that the food laws only cover animals and plants as food. Mushrooms are not plants! Classifying any Fungi as a plant is as wrong as calling a computer a dairy product. Fungi display none of the characteristic features of a plant; they can’t make energy from sunlight (in fact they try to avoid light), they don’t flower, and they have none of the parts of a plant, not even roots. Fungi are made up of strings of cells called Mycelium, or Hyphae when in mass, which are capable of surviving on their own and living within the cells of plants or animals undetected.
Fungi, when not producing the sporing bodies we call mushrooms, are able to move from food source to food source. The Hyphae are able to communicate with each other like nerves in an animal, and the Cordycepts can even hack into the brains of insects, such as ants and caterpillars, commanding where they move. Fungal tissue can survive within the human body and is immune to the bodies’ defence systems. Fungal tissue can survive cooking and the acids of the human stomach, meaning that eating mushrooms can infect the body with fungal tissue that will live off human flesh until the body tries to “fence the fungus off” within the walls of a cancerous tumour. This is why Fungi are not to be considered food, not even in survival situations.
The mushroom issue is a major concern to address and is probably the worst of the unclean foods, sitting in similar categories to Bacteria and Disease itself.
Well known Unclean Foods that are commonly consumed are:
Pork, Bacon, Ham and other Pig Products.
Mushrooms, Truffles and Fungi.
“Flake” (marketing term for the meat of Sharks and Stingrays).
Oysters, Clams, Mussels and Shellfish.
Prawns and other Crustaceans.
Livers (often in the form of Pâté or Foie Gras) and Kidneys.
Blood Sausages or Blood Pudding.
Beluga Caviar (from a Sturgeon which is unclean and critically endangered).
Horse, Snails and Frog’s Legs (from French food).
A simplified set of instructions might look a bit like this:
Mammals: Must have split hooves and chew the cud. No Pig, Camel, Rabbit or Horse.
Birds: Must not be predatory or a scavenger.
Fish: Must have true fins and scales. No Shark (flake).
Locusts and Grasshoppers: Must have hopping legs.
In general: No gut or blood products such as Tripe, Blood Pudding, Livers and Kidneys.
Try to remove as much fat as possible from a cut of meat.
Mushrooms are not plants and are to be avoided at all costs.
All Shellfish, Prawns, Snails and Crustaceans are off-limits.
Never eat meat that is alive or uncooked or has not been killed properly.
With all those mentioned above, eating should be a simple affair as long as one knows what not to eat or mistake as being food. Yours Sincerely, RV.”
SOME COMMON CLEAN ANIMALS
SOME COMMON UNCLEAN ANIMALS
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