Clean and Unclean and the Apostle Paul

“Why does it appear that the Apostle Paul supports the Biblical food laws, yet in Romans he seemingly contradicts them?”

This is a question that confounded me in the past and I had to study it out for Hold the Faith, and the other books in the Apostle John series.

In this post, I share some of my discoveries.

LeviticusThe food laws were given in Leviticus…

Leviticus 11: 1, 2 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying These are the animals which you may eat among all the bests that are on the earth:

Then follows a long section on animals, fish, birds etc which are clean (fit to eat) and then those that are not.

But then many say Jesus changed the food laws, quoting…

Mark 7:14-23: “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.’

I found a clear explanation of this on this site

washing hands

Now let’s back away and read what precedes these words from Jesus. Why was Jesus saying those words?

Jesus was reacting to the Pharisees’ criticism concerning his disciples eating with unwashed hands. Immediately Jesus points out that they “have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”.

Okay, that’s fine but what about the apostle Peter’s vision?

Peter's vision of sheet containing unclean animals

Acts 10: 11 -16 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.  And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

Surely this is clear. No?

I found an explanation on this site

The vision had nothing to do with the mission God had given Peter. The vision was only to attract Peter’s attention. Peter knew that he was not to kill and eat the animals that were upon the sheet. He knew that God was only testing him. And now he knew, or at least highly suspected that the test was about the salvation of the Gentiles. God was not cleansing unclean animals and making them clean. He was showing Peter that he was about to cleanse the hearts of the people whom the Jews considered to be unclean.

Alright then, what about…

 Romans 14: 14 -16 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.  If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 

meat·Assorted vegetables

When further researching I discovered that the subject is not clean and unclean foods but eating meat versus vegetarianism.

Paul admonishes Christians not to pass judgment on others for eating meat or for eating only vegetables.

There is so much that is difficult to understand because we try to interpret these ancient scriptures by modern thinking.

I am satisfied, for my research into the subject for the Apostle John series, that the early Christians kept the food laws as well as the Sabbaths and Holy Days. Things changed in the 3rd century AD.

It is a BIG subject though.




6 thoughts on “Clean and Unclean and the Apostle Paul

  1. William Struse

    Hi Susan,

    It is interesting to note that there were clean and unclean animals on the ark long before the Torah was given to Moses. Maybe our Creator knew something about His creation….

    As to the Biblical holy days: Why wouldn’t we want our religious celebrations to be based upon the Scriptural “shadows” as Paul called them? Why celebrate an idolatrous imitation when you have the real deal?

    Just saying…..

  2. William Struse

    Hi Susan,

    I agree with you! Our family has celebrated the Biblical holy days for well over a decade. Win and I decided that our religious traditions should be based upon the truth of the Biblical record not myths. (We did not what to teach our children half trues and outright lies.)

    Regarding clean and unclean animals, we decided the Bible was right about that too 🙂 About the same time I read an article on why swine flesh was used as a culture tissue in cancer studies. Never looked at it the same way again.

    It is kind of ironic I have to admit. In an age of “grace” when most Christian’s claim anything goes, it is still considered Legalistic to follow a Biblical diet and honor YHWH with Biblical holy days. Still trying to figure that one out…..

    Warm Regards,

  3. susanprestonbooks

    Hi Bill,
    Thank you for your clear reply. I look at those prawns (don’t know if you call them that in the US) and other crustacea… and know that they crawl along the bottom, eating the rubbish…. eeek.

    I agree with you about the way we are ‘seen’ for personally following our beliefs, even though we are not imposing it on others.

    Have to go, busy weeks ahead as we prepare to come to the US, and I try to finish Grow in Grace. First part is with the proof-reader now.

    Warm regards,

    • susanprestonbooks

      I am trying to reply on an iPad – not easy for me. As a note in my Bible says, Romans refers to clean food that has been offered to idols. This is a big subject 🙂 and I am away from home.

      A friend describes unclean food as the ‘clean up crew’. I think that’s a great explanation if you see what they eat.

      Unclean have a role in maintaining a balance in nature.

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