Dietary Laws and the Bible

Both the Old Testament and New Testament discuss eating of food and how children of God should view such matters.

In general, food laws are given for ceremonial purposes (e.g., Leviticus 11:45); but in general, they do have some health implications.  This is because in general those foods designated as unclean under the Old Covenant seem to tend to cause health issues more so than those designated as clean.  Consider Leviticus 3:17 where God commands avoidance of eating fat.  Now the health dangers of too much fat in one’s diet is well established in modern times. Of course, all food can cause health issue if prepared or eaten improperly and if eaten too much, that is out of balance.

In the Old Testament, God gives a number of instructions concerning what humans can and cannot eat. These are called dietary or Kosher laws.  The word kosher derives from this law idea as a food is said to be kosher if it is allowed by Jewish law.

God’s instructions on food begin in Genesis 1:29 where God speaks about giving man vegetables/herbs and fruit to eat.  Then in Genesis 9 after the great flood God expands that food supply to include meat from land, air, and water with certain preparation restrictions (Genesis 9:2-4). Certainly God expected man to properly handle and prepare meats before eating them. In Exodus 12:9 God even gives Israel instructions to roast the Passover Lamb with fire, perhaps both for ceremonial and health reasons. So we know that Israel did cook their meats with fire as early as their latter days in Egypt but probably even before that point.

Later in giving of the Mosaic Law, God once again restricts the diet by disallowing certain meats (Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21).

Note that in Leviticus if an animal designated unclean comes into contact with an oven then that oven becomes unclean.  So then if one goes to a restaurant and eats food prepared in the same oven used to cook both clean and unclean food then the oven is contaminated and biblically unclean.  Therefore, if one eats clean food one has still violated the commandment because one has eaten contaminated food that has become unclean (Leviticus 11:35).  Being unaware that he has eaten from such a contaminated oven does not render him guiltless (Leviticus 5:2, 14-19).

Still later under Christ and the New Covenant, God once again allows all meats to be used (Mark 7:14-23; Acts 10:9-16, 28; 15:29; Rom 14:1-23; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:25-31; Colossians 2:16; 1 Tim 4:1-4). This allowance demonstrates a change similar to the God made change in allowing meat to be eaten after the flood (Gen 9:3) whereas it was disallowed before the change as only vegetable and fruit life was given to man and animals to eat before the flood (Gen 1:29-30).

Those who claim Old Testament dietary laws are yet in effect still have the veil on and have not completely put on Christ regarding such matters for the New Covenant is more glorious than the Old Covenant (2 Cor 3:1-18). Christ is superior to the angels and therefore to Moses (Hebrews 1:1-4).

Nowhere does the bible explicitly say the dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy were given for health purposes.

Yet the mentioning of the contamination of the oven suggests such caution and protection. Perhaps God does not mention health matters since he is able to render any unclean thing clean as he later declares regarding all animals (human and unhuman), other land life, sea life, and air life in Acts 10.

In Deuteronomy 14:21 God says the Israelites are not to eat food that died naturally but they may give it or sell it to a non-Israelite for the Israelites are holy unto the Lord.  This would logically be food that could normally be eaten if it had not died naturally. Hence, at least one dietary law was a mechanism to consecrate or set apart the Israelites unto the Lord as different from the other people not specified being for health reasons.  For surely, God would not say they could give or sell to the foreigners if it was a matter of being unhealthy to eat such food. Leviticus 22:8 also+ speaks to this matter of eating such food.

Yet, each food should be examined for its affect on one’s health.  It is well established that for some people both some clean and unclean foods negatively affect their health at various stages of life.

In Acts 10:9-16 God gives Peter a vision concerning God’s willingness and capacity to clean that which men believe to be unclean including that which God had designated unclean in the Mosaic Law. God prepares a vessel of food at least some of which Peter recognizes (Acts 10:14) as included in the meats designated as common or unclean in the Law of Moses. But God tells Peter to rise, kill, and eat that which Peter considered common or unclean. For God says to Peter “What God has cleansed do not call common”.

Peter later applies this principle of not calling that which God has cleansed common in Peter’s encounter with the Italian Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8, 28) in which Peter accepts a Gentile (previous believed to be common or unworthy to associate with) as a disciple of Christ.

The fundamental question is would God create an illustration or vision rooted in unrighteousness such as telling Peter to violate the Mosaic Law by eating food that was unclean? Clearly God could have devised an illustration or vision involving Israelites and non-Israelites if all God wanted to address was cleansing humans Peter believed to be unclean. For example, God could have used elements of Jacob’s vision with both Israelites and non-Israelites on the ladder to heaven (Gen 28:12) along with elements of Paul’s vision (Acts 9:1-6) where God could have told Peter to rise for some men from a Gentile named Cornelius house comes to see you.  So since God used animals it is reasonable to conclude that God wanted to cover both animals and humans as that which God cleanses.

So then the following observations are instructive:

1. God gave us vegetables and fruits first. So they should be our first and main choice for food at every meal.

2. God gave us clean foods second to eat when prepared properly. So they should be our secondary choice at every meal such that we eat more of the first than the second.

3. God gave us previously designated unclean food to eat when handled and prepared properly such that God cleanses them and they are no longer forbidden. So they should be our third choice eaten only if the first and second are not sufficiently available. Proper handling and preparation is extremely important for the third choice since those in the third group contain germs (bacteria and viruses) that are dangerous to the body. Those in the second group may also be dangerous if not properly handled and prepared but seemingly not as dangerous in effect and abundance as those in the third group.

4. Eating from those in the third group will not cause one to lose his or her salvation; but, one ought to be careful less one loses his physical life or become gravely ill and even infect others through transmission of a virus or other germ.

5. Food should not be eaten just because it tastes good though God has created food that taste good. Food should be eaten for its nutritional value to body health in contrast to body harm. Thus those in group three should not be chosen over those in group one and two because of tasting better. Those in group three should be eaten only when that is all that is available due to their potential to harm the body and cause others harm due to transmission of germs through unprotected contact or  improper preparation even though some think they have handled and prepared it properly but sometimes don’t for whatever reason. The 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and the 2020 SARS COVID-19 outbreak are said to be caused by coronaviruses usually carried by entities (cats, bats, camels, etc.) designated unclean in the Mosaic Law though the source of the outbreak is uncertain.

For more information on biblical laws in general click here.


  1. The Dietary Laws in the Bible
  2. A Matter of Health
  3. Billy Graham Association Article
  4. Are All Animals Good Food?
  5. Coronavirus
Christianity Judaism Health Bible

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