What The Bible Says About Clean And Unclean Foods And Other Things, And Fasting Rules

This article is part of a sub-series: Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say, which is about Old Testament laws on morality and tithing, customs like animal sacrifice and the celebration of the Passover Festival, and what the New Testament says about them.
This is Part 3 (of 13) in Section 5: "Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say".

To read an overview of the way Christians should regard the Law of Moses, visit: Bible Quotations on Whether Christians Should Obey the Law of Moses.

Some parts of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are very unpleasant. If you become offended by anything, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.

In the Old Testament books of Leviticus, Exodus and Numbers, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 11 (GWT)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron,
2 "Tell the Israelites: Here are the kinds of land animals you may eat: 3 all animals that have completely divided hoofs and that also chew their cud. 4 However, from those that either chew their cud or have divided hoofs, these are the kinds you must never eat:
You must never eat camels. (Camels are unclean because they chew their cud but do not have divided hoofs.)
5 You must never eat rock badgers. (Rock badgers are unclean because they chew their cud but do not have divided hoofs.)
6 You must never eat rabbits. (Rabbits are unclean because they chew their cud but do not have divided hoofs.)
7 You must never eat pigs. (Because pigs have completely divided hoofs but do not chew their cud, they are also unclean.)
8 Never eat the meat of these animals or touch their dead bodies. They are unclean for you.

Leviticus chapter 11 (TEV)

9 You may eat any kind of fish that has fins and scales, 10 but anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales must not be eaten. 11 Such creatures must be considered unclean. You must not eat them or even touch their dead bodies. 12 You must not eat anything that lives in the water and does not have fins and scales.

13 You must not eat any of the following birds: eagles, owls, hawks, falcons; buzzards, vultures, crows; ostriches; seagulls, storks, herons, pelicans, cormorants; hoopoes; or bats.

20 All winged insects are unclean, 21 except those that hop. 22 You may eat locusts, crickets, or grasshoppers. 23 But all other small things that have wings and also crawl must be considered unclean.

24 If you touch the dead bodies of the following animals, you will be unclean until evening: all animals with hoofs, unless their hoofs are divided and they chew the cud, and all four-footed animals with paws. If you carry their dead bodies, you must wash your clothes, but you will still be unclean until evening. 29 Moles, rats, mice, and lizards must be considered unclean. 31 Whoever touches them or their dead bodies will be unclean until evening. 32 And if their dead bodies fall on anything, it will be unclean. This applies to any article of wood, cloth, leather, or sacking, no matter what it is used for. It shall be dipped in water, but it will remain unclean until evening. 33 And if their bodies fall into a clay pot, everything that is in it shall be unclean, and you must break the pot. 34 Any food which could normally be eaten, but on which water from such a pot has been poured, will be unclean, and anything drinkable in such a pot is unclean. 35 Anything on which the dead bodies fall is unclean; a clay stove or oven shall be broken, 36 but a spring or a cistern remains clean, although anything else that touches their dead bodies is unclean. 37 If one of them falls on seed that is going to be planted, the seed remains clean. 38 But if the seed is soaking in water and one of them falls on it, the seed is unclean. 39 If any animal that may be eaten dies, anyone who touches it will be unclean until evening. 40 And if any of you eat any part of the animal, you must wash your clothes, but you will still be unclean until evening; any of you who carry the dead body must wash your clothes, but you will still be unclean until evening.

41 You must not eat any of the small animals that move on the ground, 42 whether they crawl, or walk on four legs, or have many legs.

43 Do not make yourselves unclean by eating any of these. 44 I am the Lord your God, and you must keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. 45 I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt so that I could be your God. You must be holy, because I am holy.

46 "This, then, is the law about animals and birds, about everything that lives in the water, and everything that moves on the ground. 47 You must be careful to distinguish between what is ritually clean and unclean, between animals that may be eaten and those that may not.

Exodus chapter 20 (NIV)

24 " 'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.

Leviticus chapter 7 (GWT)

19 "Meat that touches anything unclean must not be eaten. It must be burned. Anyone who is clean may eat from these sacrifices. 20 Those who eat meat from the LORD's fellowship offering while unclean must be excluded from the people. 21 Those who touch anything unclean, human or animal, or any other disgusting uncleanness and still eat the LORD's fellowship offering must be excluded from the people."

22 The LORD spoke to Moses, 23 "Tell the Israelites: Never eat any fat from bulls, sheep, or goats. 24 The fat from an animal that dies naturally or is killed by wild animals you may use for any other purpose, but you must never eat it. 25 Those who eat the fat from an animal which they sacrificed by fire to the LORD must be excluded from the people.

26 "Never eat the blood of any bird or animal no matter where you live. 27 Those who eat any blood must be excluded from the people."

The Health Benefits of Obeying the Bible's Food Laws

In the Law of Moses, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 5 (GWT)

1 [The LORD continued,] "Now, if you are a witness under oath and won't tell what you saw or what you know, you are sinning and will be punished.

2 "If you touch anything unclean -- the unclean dead body of a wild or tame animal or the body of an unclean, swarming creature--and then ignore what you did, you are unclean and will be guilty.

3 "If you become unclean by touching human uncleanness of any kind and then ignore it (although you know what you did), you will be guilty.

In response to sceptics who claim that the food laws in Leviticus contain errors

Describing laws for ritual washing, (which some might find abhorrent), the Bible says:

Numbers chapter 19 (TEV)

1 The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron 2 to give the Israelites the following regulations. Bring to Moses and Aaron a red cow which has no defects and which has never been worked, 3 and they will give it to Eleazar the priest. It is to be taken outside the camp and killed in his presence. 4 Then Eleazar is to take some of its blood and with his finger sprinkle it seven times in the direction of the Tent. 5 The whole animal, including skin, meat, blood, and intestines, is to be burned in the presence of the priest.

6 Then he is to take some cedar wood, a sprig of hyssop, and a red cord and throw them into the fire. 7 After that, he is to wash his clothes and pour water over himself, and then he may enter the camp; but he remains ritually unclean until evening. 8 The one who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and pour water over himself, but he also remains unclean until evening. 9 Then someone who is ritually clean is to collect the ashes of the cow and put them in a ritually clean place outside the camp, where they are to be kept for the Israelite community to use in preparing the water for removing ritual uncleanness.

This ritual is performed to remove sin. 10 The one who collected the ashes must wash his clothes, but he remains unclean until evening. This regulation is valid for all time to come, both for the Israelites and for the foreigners living among them.

11 Those who touch a corpse are ritually unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water for purification on the third day and on the seventh day, and then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on both the third and the seventh day, they will not be clean. 13 Those who touch a corpse and do not purify themselves remain unclean, because the water for purification has not been thrown over them. They defile the Lord's Tent, and they will no longer be considered God's people.

14 In the case of a person who dies in a tent, anyone who is in the tent at the time of death or who enters it becomes ritually unclean for seven days. 15 Every jar and pot in the tent that has no lid on it also becomes unclean. 16 If any touch a person who has been killed or has died a natural death outdoors or if any touch a human bone or a grave, they become unclean for seven days. 17 To remove the uncleanness, some ashes from the red cow which was burned to remove sin shall be taken and put in a pot, and fresh water added. 18 In the first case, someone who is ritually clean is to take a sprig of hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle the tent, everything in it, and the people who were there. In the second case, someone who is ritually clean is to sprinkle the water on those who had touched the human bone or the dead body or the grave. 19 On the third day and on the seventh the person who is ritually clean is to sprinkle the water on the unclean persons. On the seventh day he is to purify those, who, after washing their clothes and pouring water over themselves, become ritually clean at sunset.

20 Those who have become ritually unclean and do not purify themselves remain unclean, because the water for purification has not been thrown over them. They defile the Lord's Tent and will no longer be considered God's people.

21 You are to observe this rule for all time to come. The person who sprinkles the water for purification must also wash his clothes; anyone who touches the water remains ritually unclean until evening. 22 Whatever an unclean person touches is unclean, and anyone else who touches it remains unclean until evening.

The Significance of Ashes in the Discovery of Soap Making by the Ancients, and Claims About the Advanced - for their time - Medical Practices of the Israelites

In Mark's Gospel in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Mark chapter 7 (NLT)

1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to confront Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of Jesus' disciples failed to follow the usual Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they eat nothing bought from the market unless they have immersed their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to - such as their ceremony of washing cups, pitchers, and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, "Why don't your disciples follow our age-old customs? For they eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony."

6 Jesus replied, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, 7 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God's commands with their own man-made teachings.' 8 For you ignore God's specific laws and substitute your own traditions."

9 Then he said, "You reject God's laws in order to hold on to your own traditions. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.' 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, 'Sorry, I can't help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I could have given to you.' 12 You let them disregard their needy parents. 13 As such, you break the law of God in order to protect your own tradition. And this is only one example. There are many, many others."

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. "All of you listen," he said, "and try to understand. 15 You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!"

17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowds, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the statement he had made. 18 "Don't you understand either?" he asked. "Can't you see that what you eat won't defile you? 19 Food doesn't come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again." (By saying this, he showed that every kind of food is acceptable.) 20 And then he added, "It is the thought-life that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God."

How the Biblical Food Laws Are Still Relevant Today

Later in the New Testament, in the apostle Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, which some believe was actually addressing concerns about eating food that may have previously been sacrificed to Pagan idols, he wrote:

Romans chapter 14 (GWT)

1 Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don't get into an argument over differences of opinion. 2 Some people believe that they can eat all kinds of food. Other people with weak faith believe that they can eat only vegetables. 3 People who eat all foods should not despise people who eat only vegetables. In the same way, the vegetarians should not criticize people who eat all foods, because God has accepted those people. 4 Who are you to criticize someone else's servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.

5 One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. 6 When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord. When people eat all kinds of foods, they honor the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honor the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God.

Romans chapter 14 (NLT)

7 For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8 While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord.

9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died. 10 So why do you condemn another Christian? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.'" 12 Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.
13 So don't condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian's path.

14 I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don't let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16 Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too.

Romans chapter 14 (GWT)

19 So let's pursue those things which bring peace and which are good for each other. 20 Don't ruin God's work because of what you eat. All food is acceptable, but it's wrong for a person to eat something if it causes someone else to have doubts.
21 The right thing to do is to avoid eating meat, drinking wine, or doing anything else that causes another Christian to have doubts. 22 So whatever you believe about these things, keep it between yourself and God.
The person who does what he knows is right shouldn't feel guilty. He is blessed. 23 But if a person has doubts and still eats, he is condemned because he didn't act in faith.

Romans chapter 14 (NLT)

23 If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

Romans chapter 15 (NLT)

1 We may know that these things make no difference, but we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves. We must be considerate of the doubts and fears of those who think these things are wrong. 2 We should please others. If we do what helps them, we will build them up in the Lord. 3 For even Christ didn't please himself.

In Matthew's Gospel in the New Testament, the Bible says:

Matthew chapter 23 (TEV)

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. 2 "The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses' Law. 3 So you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don't practice what they preach. 4 They tie onto people's backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry, yet they aren't willing even to lift a finger to help them carry those loads. 5 They do everything so that people will see them. Look at the straps with scripture verses on them which they wear on their foreheads and arms, and notice how large they are!

25 "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!

27 "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear good to everybody, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and sins.

23 "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others.

In the Law of Moses, the Bible says:

Leviticus chapter 16 (TEV)

29 The following regulations are to be observed for all time to come. On the tenth day of the seventh month the Israelites and the foreigners living among them must fast and must not do any work. 30 On that day the ritual is to be performed to purify them from all their sins, so that they will be ritually clean. 31 That day is to be a very holy day, one on which they fast and do no work at all. These regulations are to be observed for all time to come. 32 The High Priest, properly ordained and consecrated to succeed his father, is to perform the ritual of purification. He shall put on the priestly garments 33 and perform the ritual to purify the Most Holy Place, the rest of the Tent of the Lord's presence, the altar, the priests, and all the people of the community. 34 These regulations are to be observed for all time to come. This ritual must be performed once a year to purify the people of Israel from all their sins.

Leviticus chapter 23 (TEV)

23 On the first day of the seventh month observe a special day of rest, and come together for worship when the trumpets sound. 25 Present a food offering to the Lord and do none of your daily work.
26 The tenth day of the seventh month is the day when the annual ritual is to be performed to take away the sins of the people. On that day do not eat anything at all; come together for worship, and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 Do no work on that day, because it is the day for performing the ritual to take away sin. 29 Any who eat anything on that day will no longer be considered God's people. 30 And if any do any work on that day, the Lord himself will put them to death. 31 This regulation applies to all your descendants, no matter where they live. 32 From sunset on the ninth day of the month to sunset on the tenth observe this day as a special day of rest, during which nothing may be eaten.

Later in the Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, he prophesied,

Isaiah chapter 58 (TEV)

1 The Lord says, "Shout as loud as you can! Tell my people Israel about their sins! 2 They worship me every day, claiming that they are eager to know my ways and obey my laws. They say they want me to give them just laws and that they take pleasure in worshiping me." 3 The people ask, "Why should we fast if the Lord never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?"

The Lord says to them, "The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. 4 Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? 5 When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that? 6 "The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. 7 Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.

8 "Then my favor will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. 9 When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.

In Matthew's Gospel in the New Testament, the Bible says that Jesus Christ said:

Matthew chapter 6 (NLT)

16 "When you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.

In Luke's Gospel, the Bible says:

Luke chapter 5 (NLT)

33 The religious leaders complained that Jesus' disciples were feasting instead of fasting. "John the Baptist's disciples always fast and pray," they declared, "and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are yours always feasting?" 34 Jesus asked, "Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? 35 Someday he will be taken away from them, and then they will fast."

36 Then Jesus gave them this illustration: "No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be torn, and the patch wouldn't even match the old garment. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. 38 New wine must be put into new wineskins. 39 But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. 'The old is better,' they say."

The next file in this section (Part 4), is entitled: "The Instructions the Jews Were Given About Not Associating With Non-Jews".

If you have found parts of the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation offensive, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.