Are there unclean foods?


Genesis 9:3

Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Romans 14:14 (also 1 Tim 4:1-4)

As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.

Deuteronomy 14:3, 7-8, 10 (Dt 14:3-21; also Lev 11)

Do not eat any detestable thing...you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. The pig is also unclean...Anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean.


As Paul states in Romans 14:14, foods are not unclean in and of themselves. While God has given rules concerning food in the past, they were laws intended to serve a particular purpose at a particular time, not moral absolutes. The laws given to the Israelites concerning food were in force during the time of the Old Covenant, not before and not after.

People often view Paul's teaching on foods as contradictory to Jesus' teaching, particularly Jesus' statement that he was not coming to abolish the law (see Jesus did/did not abolish the law). Yet Jesus himself pointed out that the ceremonial aspects of the law were only ceremonial in Matthew 15:10-20:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'"

Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"

He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Peter said, "Explain the parable to us."

"Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'"

Jesus did not teach his disciples to break the Law, for since he had not yet died and been resurrected, the Law was still in effect. However, he did tell his disciples that his death and resurrection was the beginning of a new covenant (Lk 22:20). This new covenant removed the distinctions between clean and unclean that were made in the Law, as a vision from God demonstrated to Peter in Acts 10:9-16:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

The immediate purpose of this vision was to teach Peter that it was alright for him to associate with "unclean" Gentiles and share the Gospel with them (Acts 10:17-11:18). As a result of the vision and the subsequent salvation of Gentiles, the church realized that the ceremonial laws given by Moses were no longer in effect (Acts 15:5-11). Thus, the idea that all foods are now clean did not originate with Paul, but with God himself.


Related articles


Top of page