In the Garden of Eden
When God created Adam and Eve, He said: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:29).
It is clear from God's original instruction that eating the flesh or meat of animals was not His plan for human beings in the beginning. At creation, God gave Adam and Eve all kinds of fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts to provide for their needs.
What is the origin of the “clean” and “unclean” animals referred to in the Bible?
Leviticus 11 & Deuteronomy 14
The Bible identifies the “clean” and the “unclean” foods as follows:
Land animals (Split hooves and chew cud)
Leviticus 11:3 reads, “Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat.”
The Bible goes on to say that the camel and rabbit are not acceptable to eat because they chew their cud, but don’t have split hooves. On the flip-side, pigs are also not acceptable to eat “having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:7). All other land animals are forbidden by the Bible which include mice, reptiles, amphibians and mollusks.
List of clean land animals*
List of unclean land animals*
Water creatures (fins and scales)
Concerning fish, we are told in Leviticus 11:9, 12, “These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat...Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales—that shall be an abomination to you.”
Tuna, salmon and trout are “clean,” as well as any other fish that have both fins and scales. Only sea creatures that have scales and fins are suitable for food, therefore this would eliminate oysters, shellfish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and many other types of seafood as foods safe to eat.
List of clean water creatures*
List of unclean water creatures*
List of clean birds*
List of unclean birds*
Continuing in Leviticus 11:13, “And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard.” The list continues to verse 19 and includes the kites, falcons, ravens, ostriches, owls, seagulls, hawks, storks, herons and bats.
God even includes insects in His list of clean and unclean animals. Leviticus 11:22-23 states that, “These you may eat: the locust after its kind, the destroying locust after its kind, the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind. But all other flying insects which have four feet shall be an abomination to you.”
List of clean insects*
List of unclean insects*
For Jews only?
Some people have thought that when God prohibited certain “unclean” meat it applied only to the Jews. But in Noah’s time, God made a clear distinction as to which animals were “clean” and which were “unclean.” This was centuries before any Jews existed. Therefore, God’s health principles were not limited to any race or nation but were given for the benefit of the entire human race.
Some might ask, “but didn’t Jesus clean up all creatures and make them fit to eat when He died on the cross?” The answer is: Did the death of Jesus on the cross change the scavenger habits of the oyster? Did Jesus die to change the habits of the animal world? Certainly not. The death of Jesus cleanses sinners, but not “unclean” animals.
God is not trying to be hard on us when He asks us to keep “unclean” animals or foods out of our diets.
With modern diseases as well as pesticide and antibiotic residues in the flesh of many land and sea animals, we are running a risk by eating meat of any kind; but certainly we should not use those unclean flesh foods which God specifically warns against.
God’s health insurance plan
Why not accept the Bible’s health insurance plan and pay close attention to the principles which God has laid down for us. He knows exactly what is best for us. When we follow Him, we benefit from the results!
(* Please note: these lists are not exhaustive.)
Frequently asked questions
What are unclean animals? Animals that are not fit for food. It’s in the Bible, Leviticus 11:47, NKJV. “to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.’”
What kind of animals on land does the Bible call clean? Those with split hooves and eat grass, like cows or deer. It’s in the Bible, Leviticus 11:3, NKJV. “Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat.”
Does the Bible say it is okay to eat fish? Most fish are clean to eat. It’s in the Bible, Deuteronomy 14:9, NKJV. “These you may eat of all that are in the waters: you may eat all that have fins and scales.”
What animals does the Bible consider unclean? If they eat grass, but don’t have a split hoof, or have a split hoof, but don’t eat grass. This includes rabbits and pig. It’s in the Bible, Leviticus 11:6-7, NKJV. “the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.”
What kinds of birds should we avoid eating? Birds of prey, or scavengers. It’s in the Bible, Leviticus 11:13-19, NKJV. "And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind; every raven after its kind, the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat."
Are shellfish, like crab, shrimp, or clam unlean according to the Bible? It’s in the Bible, Deuteronomy 14:10, NKJV. “And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.”
Does clean and unclean meat only matter for the Jews? No, clean and unclean meats have been known since the time of Noah, before Jews existed. It’s in the Bible, Genesis 7:1-2, NKJV. “Then the Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female.”
The distinction between clean and unclean animals will continue to the end of time. It’s in the Bible, Isaiah 66:15, 17 NIV. “'See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together,’ declares the Lord.”
What we eat and drink can affect how we glorify God. It’s in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 10:31, NKJV. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’
Our bodies are to be a holy temple for the Holy Spirit. It’s in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NKJV. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”