Meat Laws – Clean & Unclean Meat

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While there are too many dietary variants to count today, and just as many approaches to meat and animals foods, the Scriptures provide accurate insights into mans optimal diet, and guidelines for the consumption of various foods to best promote health. Below we discuss the various Meat Laws found in the Bible.

Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14  talk about the various animals that are clean or unclean.

In the Adventist church the health message is nearly as old as the church itself. In a time when basic health, nutrition, and sanitation were not really known of, the church brought a new and healthier way of living to many people.

Adventists today encourage a vegetarian diet. Adventists also understand that the health laws set in Leviticus and Deuteronomy still apply -that they were not ceremonial laws, but God laying out perimeters for the healthiest living and sanitation. As Christians we understand that God knew what he was doing when he made the health laws and that he wants the very best for us.


What are the laws concerning eating meat?

 “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Genesis 9:4. We see here a deviation from the original diet after the flood. The flood had destroyed all manner of vegetation and as a result, man was allowed to eat animal food till vegetation could thrive again. However, here we recognize the first law concerning meat eating. Below are the laws outlined in the bible concerning meat eating.

  1. Animal food was not to be consumed with the blood.
  2. Animals that died from natural death or by another animal were not to be consumed. Leviticus 22:8
  3. Animals were not to be eaten with their fat. Leviticus 3:17
  4. No unclean animal was to be eaten. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14

What animals are clean and unclean?

After the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, they longed for the fleshpots that they had indulged in during their time there. God in his mercy allowed them to eat meat, giving detailed instructions as to what he considered clean and unclean animals. This is found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. He gave clear guidelines in the form of categories to help make it easier for them to identify such clean or unclean meats.

Clean animal food categories:

  1. Mammals with divided or split hoofs and chew cud ( e.g. oxen, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles, roebuck, wild goats, ibex, antelopes, and mountain sheep)
  2. Fish with fins and scales ( e.g. tuna, salmon, codfish, mahi mahi, sardines, etc.)
  3. Most birds except birds of prey and scavengers (e.g. chicken, turkey)
  4. Insects with four jointed jumping legs that leap (e.g. such as crickets and grasshoppers)

Unclean animal food categories:

  1. Mammals with divided hoof but does not chew cud (e.g. pig-pork in all its forms)
  2. Mammals that chew cud but hooves are not divided (e.g. camels, rabbits, rock badgers, etc.)
  3. Marine animals without fins and scales ( These include all shellfish, all sea mammals, all soft body water animals, caviar, etc.)
  4. Specific unclean birds especially birds of prey and scavengers (e.g. eagles, vultures, falcons, crows, owls, hawks)
  5. All other insects without jointed jumping legs

As nutritionist David Meinz observes:

“Could it be that God, in His wisdom, created certain creatures whose sole purpose is to clean up after the others? Their entire ‘calling' may be to act exclusively as the sanitation workers of our ecology. God may simply be telling us that it's better for us believers not to consume the meat of these trash collectors”. Eating by the Book,1999, p. 225

It should be quite apparent that the ecological role of many animals, -including scavengers- is to be nature's garbage collectors. The distinction between clean and unclean meats referenced in the Bible is not merely ceremonial and an arbitrary regulation, but is based upon sanitary principles that lower the risk of diseases.

Why don't Seventh-day Adventists eat some meats?

In the Adventist church, the health message is nearly as old as the church itself. In a time when basic health, nutrition, and sanitation were not really known, the church brought a new and healthier way of living to many people.

While the Seventh Day Adventist church promotes a wholesome plant-based diet which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, not all members follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. For those who eat meat, they abstain from unclean meats as stated in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

What are some of the effects of eating meat?

“If meat eating was ever healthful, it is not safe now. Cancers, tumors, and pulmonary diseases are largely caused by meat eating.” Counsels for the Church, 235.6. God knew that a plant-based diet would impart a strength, power of endurance, and vigor of intellect that animal flesh could not afford. For these reasons, God gave the health message to lessen the suffering of humanity in this world.

Scientific research proves that there are many health issues associated with eating meat. Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition, says that an accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. Harvard Health Publishing, February 1, 2020.


Frequently Asked Questions

How do we understand Matthew 15:11? “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth.”

In Matthew 15:1-20, the discussion surrounds the importance of ceremonial washing of hands before eating. The scribes taught that eating without washing one’s hands was defiling, but Jesus said that these ceremonial washings were ultimately meaningless. He argued that it’s what comes out of a persons heart is what defiles them, not what goes into their mouth. He listed a number of evil things that come from the heart, such as murder, adultery, theft, and false witness. He concluded by saying that these are the things that defile a person, not eating with unwashed hands.

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