Food for You

As Noah departs the Ark after the Great Flood, God extends the general dietary principle, what He’s classified as food. In the Garden, He had revealed his provision of plants for nourishment (Ge 1:30), and now He’s allowing anything that moves to be eaten. (Ge 9:3)

What’s interesting to observe about God’s dietary revelation is that it’s very general; important, critical details are omitted. For example, we shouldn’t eat certain kinds of plants because they’re poisonous, yet God never explicitly tells us which plants to avoid and why.

As a general principle, plants are food, but each particular animal species should only eat certain kinds of plants. God gives each species instincts about what’s good to eat, and places Adam in a special garden stocked with a wide variety of edible herbs and fruit trees as a start. He also gives Man intelligence to figure out the rest, so with a bit of trial and error, we do just fine in the antediluvian world. The key point being this: just because something appears to be in the general category of food, doesn’t mean that we humans should be eating it. We need wisdom and discernment to be healthy.

The same appears to be true for eating animals; this dietary extension to eat flesh applies to certain animals as well as to humans, according to God’s design in each of His creatures. By nature, some creatures are merely herbivores and some are capable of being carnivores or omnivores. So, as Noah considers God’s extension of the dietary principle to include meat, as there’s a design apparent in certain animals that enables them to eat it, there’s also an obvious guideline for Man about which animals are good to eat, which Noah understands to be clean.

This concept of clean animals wasn’t new, it was well-known in the antediluvian world, even though we’ve no record of any direct revelation from God about it. Perhaps Adam discerned that certain kinds of animals were distinctly different from others in a way that made them suitable for humans to domesticate, even though we weren’t eating them. For example, Adam might have discovered that milk and wool from sheep were especially good, and taught his sons about it. Perhaps this is why Abel chose shepherding as his profession. (Ge 4:2)

In other words, Adam had not merely named all of the animals (Ge 2:19), but he may have observed enough about each species to classify it as clean or unclean, and taught the rest of us how to distinguish between them. Perhaps this is why, when God told Noah to take into the Ark seven of each of the clean species of animals, and only two of each unclean species, He didn’t need to explain; Noah appears to have already known exactly how to do this. (Ge 7:2)

And as Noah is leaving the Ark, contemplating the spare of each of the clean animals, he perceives that God will be pleased with an enormous sacrifice (Ge 8:20), an expression of God’s ownership of all things, rejoicing in His pleasure in sparing life on the earth.

After the sacrifice, noting the remaining three pair of each clean animal species, and only one pair of all of the other animal species, as Noah was considering God’s expanded dietary principle, recognizing that eating any of the unclean animals in the near future would cause that species to become extinct, it was immediately clear which animals God intended for human consumption: the clean ones, especially those which we were already in the habit of directly managing.

But over time, this knowledge about which kinds of animals were good for us to eat seems to have deteriorated to the point that it was appropriate for God formally define it for us; as men began to rebel against God in every conceivable manner, the dietary principle was evidently no exception. So, in formalizing His perfect ways for Israel, God reminds them to not eat abominable things (De 14:3), animals which He has not designed for humans to eat, clearly explaining exactly how to distinguish between clean and unclean animals (6) and giving us a number of specific examples of clean beasts (4) and unclean ones (7), edible fish (9-10) and unclean birds. (11-18) This wasn’t a change in the dietary revelation, or even a new concept, just a formalization of what He had already informally revealed in us to establish clarity and accountability.

It is true that there is some nutritional value in unclean foods, but this should not be our preference when we have any kind of choice. Under normal circumstances, routinely choosing to eat unclean animals is to disrespect and harm ourselves. As God has progressively revealed His eternal ways over time, He hasn’t ever changed His mind about what’s good for us, nor has He been arbitrary in His commands: they’re righteous and very faithful, each and every one of them. (Ps 119:138)

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4 thoughts on “Food for You”

  1. A friend says, “It’s an interesting take, although it somewhat sidesteps what God plainly said. People already knew about clean animals, so why didn’t God just say, “You can now eat clean animals”?

    It is a good question, and only God knows the answer, because He hasn’t told us. It’s likely the same reason He doesn’t tell us exactly which plants to eat; it’s the same, consistent behavior.

    God appears to be delighted in our seeking Him, pursuing Him, working in and through Him to find the truth in the midst of uncertainty, confusion and deception. Even when He’s absolutely clear about His way, only those who are seeking Him finally obey Him; the enmity of the rest of humanity is just exposed prematurely and more intensely. Evidently, this isn’t best for anyone, not just yet anyway.

    I think any alternative view here would be forced to concede that it’s fine to eat flies and cockroaches, poisonous frogs and the like, even each other! Such a diet might be appropriate in life-or-death situations, where some nutrition’s better than nothing, but as a general dietary guideline, it seems clear to me that we’re to be selective and use discernment.

    Every moving thing evidently has some nutritional value, and therefore can be considered food per Ge 9:3, yet as a general dietary principle some animals are abominable, and we shouldn’t eat them. (De 14:3) This appears to apply to all of us, revealing God’s love for Man, not just for those present at Sinai when God revealed His ways more clearly and explicitly to Israel.

  2. I have been following Torah dietary laws for a few months now. Before learning of their validity, I was already vegan so I was not intentionally eating meat (although I was consuming products containing gelatin until I learned it is often made from pork.)
    I am interested in reintroducing (clean) animal products into my diet but I have a few concerns that I want to address to insure this is obedient to the Lord.

    I know we are not to consume blood according to Genesis 9:4, this is easy enough to follow.

    Leviticus 17:13 also details how we are to dispose of the blood of animals we slaughter for food “And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcher any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.”

    I’m aware that this is one aspect of shechita, the kosher slaughter method but shechita is also comprised of other aspect such as the required supervision of a rabbi and specific surgical cuts. This is what makes meat “certified kosher”. I know that these additional aspects of shechita do not come from written Torah but from Oral Torah, which is invalid, man-made addition to Gods perfect Law.

    That all being considered, do Christian’s need to be concerned with kosher certification of our meat?( So long as it is a clean animal of course)

    How are we to know that our clean animal products were not made unclean in their slaughter by Leviticus 17:13 being broken?

    I’m personally more than happy to abstain from meat that’s unclean to avoid breaking Gods Law but I also dont want to unnecessarily burden myself with man-made legalism by insisting my meat be “certified kosher”. This would also open up many more options for food I could give to others with a clean concious. (I do not wish to cause others to sin)

    1. Great question. This is a common concern that I’ve wrestled with, along with others.

      My take on it is not to worry about our food being kosher, just clean, as best we can tell, based on whether it meets the criteria of scripture laid out in De 14. I see this principle in 1Co 10:25: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” The context is buying food in a local non-Jewish market, suggesting that the food had not been prepared or maintained according to Jewish ritual cleanliness, and might have even been prepared by the same hands and implements handling various kinds of unclean foods. Even so, Paul seems to have no problem with us being unconcerned about exactly how an animal is slaughtered or stored, so long as the animal itself is set apart by God for food. Obviously, if a piece of flesh is still clearly saturated with blood, perhaps we would be more obedient to try to select a different piece with less blood, or try to squeeze more blood out of it before we cook it, but I think this is generally not a problem we need to worry about.

      Personally, for the above reasons, I don’t spend much energy sorting out things like this on a day-to-day level; as you noted, being overly scrupulous about this kind of thing creates a burden out of Torah that I think does much more harm than good, and was never the intent of the Law. There are a LOT of ways to do this, to make Torah a burden, and the orthodox Jewish ritual culture seems to make burdensome regulations into an art form at times — can’t turn on a light switch on sabbath, or tear off a piece of toilet paper, or push a button on an elevator, etc.

      As for the gelatin issue, I may be wrong, but I don’t look at a substance that is derived from a pig as necessarily being pork or inedible: if it doesn’t contain the form and substance of the flesh of the animal, but is merely derived or extracted from parts of the animal, I see it as just a chemical compound – similar to the dirt that is eventually made from the decaying flesh of unclean animals and eventually passed as nutrients back into the food chain for us to consume again. At some point in this process, it isn’t the same as eating the flesh of the animal. Where exactly in the process this occurs is difficult to pinpoint exactly, but I suppose you get the idea.

      Gelatin is (from what I can tell) a protein extracted from the bones, skin, and ligaments of an animal (parts we generally don’t eat anyway) by boiling the material in water – and an isolated protein compound isn’t the same thing as flesh. Gelatin actually CAN be kosher if the animal was clean, but even if the gelatin is made from a pig, and has been, for example, formed into a vitamin capsule, I don’t see eating it as a Torah violation, any more than smelling bacon cooking on the stove, or having horse molecules seep through my skin as I ride bareback in shorts, or human molecules coming into me as I hold my wife’s hand. We have to draw the line somewhere in order to live.

      I can definitely see why many are opposed to gelatin and similar products, but I need to pick my battles carefully – my wife doesn’t keep Torah and wouldn’t take well to me being overly scrupulous here, and it doesn’t seem to me to fit with the spirit of Torah to be that meticulous and restrictive about it. In my opinion, this is a matter of extra-biblical practice that falls into the realm of Romans 14: let everyone be fully persuaded of what is right for him/her as their conscience before God leads, and don’t be either a stumblingblock or a self-righteous pharisee about it.

      If you disagree or would like to discuss further, I am very glad to do so. Thanks again for the question.

  3. Since Abel kept sheep, should we presume he was also eating them, or at least the milk, and that this would have been inconsistent with God’s dietary provision of only eating plants? (Ge 1:29-30)

    God evidently intended for baby mammals, including humans, to drink their mother’s milk before they ate plants. This wasn’t a violation of God’s dietary laws but a wholesome provision from God.

    So, I don’t think it would have been inconsistent for people to drink sheep or goat’s milk before the Flood to supplement their diet, especially as they struggled to find and prepare food. (Ge 3:17-19)

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