Leviticus 11

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Is the law of unclean animals still valid? It appears to me that it is simply another Israelite ceremonial law.

Several Adventist scholars have recently studied the law of unclean/clean animals with some interesting conclusions. I will list a few of them:

1. The law regarding unclean animals—in Leviticus 11—is unique in the Bible: In Leviticus ritual uncleanness had two basic characteristics. First, it was acquired through the direct or indirect contact with something unclean (blood, a corpse, a carcass, etc.). Second, this type of impurity could be removed from the individual through the performance of a particular ritual (that’s why it is called ritual uncleanness).

Those two characteristics do not apply to the instruction regarding unclean animals. The nature of the impurity was not acquired, but rather belonged to the very nature of the particular animal. That is to say, they were permanently unclean; there was no particular ritual capable of making them clean.

Moreover, the uncleanness of these animals was not transferable through contact. The Israelites could touch an unclean animal without becoming unclean. In fact, they raised unclean animals—donkeys, horses, and camels—and used them for different tasks.

A person became unclean only by eating the flesh of the animal, and no prescribed ritual regulation could remove the uncleanness. The Israelites were simply expected to obey the Lord. Here we can clearly see that the natural uncleanness of the animal is to be distinguished from the ritual one. (I should add that an animal could become ritually unclean after it died. Touching the carcass of an animal—whether clean or unclean—made the person unclean, and a cleansing ritual had to be performed.)

2. The law is also recorded in Deuteronomy 14: The fact that this law is recorded in Deuteronomy is significant. Deuteronomy generally does not deal with ceremonial laws. In this particular case there is no discussion in the context of ritual uncleanness. Deuteronomy 13 is an exhortation to worship only the Lord. The last part of chapter 14 deals with tithing laws. In between we have the law of unclean animals, suggesting that the law of unclean animals was a dietary law of a different nature than the ceremonial one.

3. The distinction between clean/unclean animals is pre-Mosaic: The law distinguishing between clean and unclean animals is mentioned in the Bible for the first time in the Flood narrative, before there was an Israelite (Gen. 7:2, 3 ). While the unclean animals entered the ark by twos, the clean ones were preserved by sevens. This suggests that the clean were to be used as food by Noah and his family without risking the extinction of any particular species.

4. The motivation is holiness: The reason for this unique regulation is holiness: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, NIV).
In the Old Testament the unclean is a metaphor for the realm of death. The holy is what belongs to God and is a symbol of life. The law seeks to preserve the lives of the people by keeping them away from the sphere of death, the sphere of sickness and suffering.

5. It is a dietary law: This is so obvious that some people overlook it. This law regulates the animal flesh that the Israelites were allowed to consume as food and forms part of a long tradition of dietary regulations given by God to His people.

God has been always interested in the diet of humans. To Adam and Eve He gave fruits and grains (Gen. 1:29); after the Fall He modified it to include vegetables (Gen. 3:18); and finally He instructed Noah to eat animal flesh (Gen. 9:3). God has allowed humans to be partially responsible for the preservation of their lives, but has instructed them on how to preserve them to His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

The lordship of Christ includes preserving our bodies, because He is interested in our physical as well as our spiritual well-being (1 Cor. 6;19, 20; 3 John 2). There is no evidence in the New Testament to indicate that Christ eliminated, through His sacrifice, the law of clean/unclean animals.