Discussion: Old Testament Dietary Law and Why They No Longer Apply to Us

Here is a discussion with a good friend of mine, who, from my knowledge, used to be a 7-Day Adventist, and is currently a non-denominational Protestant. He still has some 7-Day Adventist influence in regards to Sabbath, OT Law, and Soul sleep. He is also a fantastic person and friend.

Leonard Goenaga

It’s always Jorge’s fault.

PS: Rodney I’m waiting for a discussion on Old Testament levitical law. A professor of mine tore the chains of such laws to shreds the other day, and I oh so affectionately thought of you and Jorge.

Rodney Castillo

lets start with something small. What thoughts do you have on God telling Noah to put in the ark X amount of “clean” animals and X amount of “unclean” animals if this is way before Levitical law.

Leonard Goenaga

1. Usage: Clean Animals have an extended use over ‘unclean’ animals, given the nature of sacrifices (Gen 8:20). More than one purpose for collecting the animals.

2. Context: The idea of a Sabbath and ‘Clean/Unclean’ animals, predates Moses in being observed. It was standardized in Lv 11 and Dt 14. The Sabbath was also normalized with Moses’ commands (Ex 16:23-29).

3. Holiness: Regarding Clean and Unclean animals, two things are straightforward: 1) These were instructions specific to the Israelites, 2) The commands of clean vs. unclean regarded Holiness, with a secondary byproduct of any health-related issues being simply beneficial. One once remember that, according to Exodus, the laws were given as a form of punishment against the Israelites for not going up the mountain with Moses, due to their fear (the opposite of fear being faith). God promised to make them a “nation of priests”, and as punishment for their unfaithfulness, made them a nation with priests (Exo 19).

So, as I mentioned above.

  1. These were commands specific to the Israelites, not us. They no longer apply, for two reasons (the latter which we’ll get into later): A. You’re not a descendent/Israelite [that I know of], 2. Jesus came and fulfilled the law. As I said earlier, we read Levi 11 and find this specific language: “Tell the Israelites: You may eat...” The importance here is Israelite-specific commandments. He was not addressing the world as a whole; rather, just His chosen people. Again, this would nullify us.

  2.  The main purpose of such laws was to separate them from the surrounding nations; give an identity to aid in the coming Messiah. Very importance to notice, as I see 7-Day Adv. speaking of the health benefits of such laws, was that cleanliness was based on the commands of God; in other words, His commands issue holiness, and holiness is what made it clean or unclean. Health benefits did not make it holy, rather God’s establishment of it as such. 

All four sources where this cleanliness is mentioned is based off of holiness:  

  • so must you consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy…you must be holy because I am holy,” (this following a direct mentioning of unclean animals, and showing the foundation of keeping such laws was holiness, not health. ‘you must be healthy because I am healthy’ obviously makes no sense in relation to God, Lev 11:44-45),
  • I have set these apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to Me becase I, the Lord, am holy,” (Lev. 20:25-26).

  • PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THIS ONE: “You are not to eat any carcass; you may give it to a resident alien within your gates, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner,” (Deut. 14:21). Notice, these rules of clean and unclean do not apply to foreigners and non-israeltie neighbors. They ARE culture specific, as this verse makes evident, and they were given to the Israelites as a form of punishment and identity. If they applied to us as well, why not the foreigners?

They do not apply to you because they are culturally specific to the Israelites, and they are given on the basis of what God deems to be holiness for His chosen people (who needed to be holy as God commanded, as punishment for their sin of fear and lack of faith). In addition, they no longer even apply to the Israelites, as it only occurred until the coming of the Messiah, which has already happened (which we affirm in our faith). This is perhaps the greatest proof for you and I, as Christians, besides a study of the OT texts on what it says.

God chooses which animals to be worthy of sacrifice, so theologically we can assume His ‘holy people’ would be restricted to the same sacrificial ‘diet’ as God, since their job was to be Holy, even allowing Israelites to sell it to neighbors whom it didn’t apply (Dt. 14:21). Again, specific to Israelites.

In conclusion, and most authoritative:

4. Removal of Distinctions: The best evidence that health was not the primary factor, was that clean and unclean distinctions are removed in the NT. Jesus spoke in Mk 7:14-23 of something much more important. “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person,”. Following, “For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated. (As a result, He made all foods clean).” (Mark 7:19).

This is profoundly clear on how null such laws were, but we even have a further explanation in Acts, to clearly cast all doubts aside.

In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth…Then a voice said to him, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’…What God has made clean, you must not call common’.” (Acts 10:12-15).

 Taken within the previous teaching of Jesus, we have affirmation.

  1. (A) They were specific to the nation of Israelites.

  2. (B) They were for the purpose of Holiness amongst His Holy People, as punishment, until the coming of the Messiah, whom would come from amongst this chosen people (thus expressing the need to separate from other nations).

  3. (C) They no longer applied after the coming of the Messiah, as affirmed in the teachings of Jesus, and the ‘Good News for Gentiles’ in Acts 10. Jesus Christ’ coming freed them and us from this punishment.
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