Understanding clean and unclean animals otherwise known as kosher meat are important even though we don’t follow in the new covenant because, it is spoken by God Himself. Clean and unclean are never mentioned or commanded in the new covenant by Christ.
Gen 7:2 “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;
It is interesting to note that the division of clean and unclean animals were known even before the flood.
Old Covenant: Clean and Unclean
The law explicitly mentions the meat that can be consumed. We will discuss what the law says about clean and unclean living creatures. All clean animals are
Cloven hooves and chew the cud
Lev 11:2-8 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: ‘Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud–that you may eat. Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; 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. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.
Deut 14:4-5 “These are the animals which you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the mountain goat, the antelope, and the mountain sheep.
God gave explicit instructions for what animals are clean and unclean animals. All that has cloven hooves and chew the cud are clean but the rest are unclean.
Fins and scales
Lev 11:9-11 ‘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. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales–that shall be an abomination to you.
Explicit instructions were given by God for what sea creatures constitute clean or unclean. All that has fins or scales in the sea or rivers are clean but the rest are unclean.
Lev 11:13-19 ‘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.
Instead of giving ways to identify clean or unclean birds, God gave the list of birds and after it’s kinds to be unclean. 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 all unclean.
Clean and unclean insects
Lev 11:20-23 ‘All flying insects that creep on all fours shall be an abomination to you. Yet these you may eat of every flying insect that creeps on all fours: those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap on the earth. 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.
Flying insect that creeps on all fours, those which have jointed legs above their feet with which to leap on the earth are clean. Locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are clean.
Using paws among four legged
Lev 11:27a ‘And whatever goes on its paws, among all kinds of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you.
All that goes on paws among all four legged animals are unclean.
Unclean creeping things
Lev 11:29 ‘These also shall be unclean to you among the creeping things that creep on the earth: the mole, the mouse, and the large lizard after its kind; the gecko, the monitor lizard, the sand reptile, the sand lizard, and the chameleon. And every creeping thing that creeps on the earth shall be an abomination. It shall not be eaten. Whatever crawls on its belly, whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet among all creeping things that creep on the earth–these you shall not eat, for they are an abomination. You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them.
All creeping things are unclean.
Old Covenant: Punishment
The law does not specify any punishment for eating unclean animals. It simply states not to eat and provides remediation to become clean again.
Lev 11:24-25 ‘By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening:
By eating unclean animals, we become unclean according to the law. Leviticus 11 speaks a lot about abominations but it summarises in verses 24-25 that anyone who touches will be unclean till evening and must wash his clothes. It is also important to note that the law was never given to gentiles. For more information refer, What are gentiles require to follow?
New Covenant: Can eat unclean
Most of the ritual old covenant laws are for the cleaning on the outside.
Matt 23:25-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Matt 15:17-20 “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
The scribes and Pharisees gave more importance to cleansing on the outside of the cup and dishes rather than the inside. However, in the new covenant, as Christ said, if anyone is clean on the inside within the heart, they are clean on the outside also.
Lev 11:35-36 ‘And everything on which a part of any such carcass falls shall be unclean; whether it is an oven or cooking stove, it shall be broken down; for they are unclean, and shall be unclean to you. Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which there is plenty of water, shall be clean, but whatever touches any such carcass becomes unclean.
In the old covenant, the clean and unclean restrictions in the law were for the health and hygiene of the Israelite people which we can see clearly when God excludes spring or cistern from becoming unclean. Also, neither Christ, nor the apostles gave any such instructions to not eat unclean animals. However, they did gave commands to keep away from things sacrificed to idols. Hence, a Christian eating a hamburger is not going to make him unclean as long as he is clean on the inside within the heart.
New Covenant: Not to eat sacrificed to other gods
Eating things sacrificed to other gods is different from eating unclean animals because, when we eat, it is not just a food we consume but we partake in their worship in some form by eating it and polluting ourselves.
Acts 15:28-29 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
If non-sacrificed meat isn’t available anywhere, there is nothing stopping us to eat just vegetables like Daniel. Yet, we crave for meat like the Israelite people in the wilderness which led God to destroy them. Christ strictly warned us in His message to two churches through the book of Revelation, not to eat things sacrificed to Idols. Hence, eating things sacrificed to idols is not the same as eating unclean animals. For more info, please refer the blog, Can Christians eat Halal? No
Christians can eat unclean animals and not be defiled as long as their inside of their heart is clean. It is important to note that the law which distinguishes clean from unclean animals, what to eat and what to avoid where never given to gentiles. But, Christians cannot eat things sacrificed to idols.