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Why did God consider certain animals “unclean”?

The main reason God categorized certain animals as “unclean” was to highlight the difference between holiness and sin. Dietary laws controlled what individuals put into their bodies. For ancient Israel, which was surrounded by heathen nations and customs, it was important to have physical reminders of what constituted sin and what was holy. Not only were there health benefits to kosher laws, but the implied message was that Israel’s relationship with God was to influence every aspect of their lives.

In Lev. 11:45 God said,

“For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

The Law itself made it clear that a person’s conduct could be sinful, but with the addition of unclean “things” the lesson was made even stronger, that sin came in many forms, from the grossest sins to simple sins of neglect. This is a meaningful lesson for us today. What we put into our minds and the activities we put into our lives can be wholesome and pure, or sinful on various levels.

Our relationship with God demands that we conduct our lives in a way that reflects God’s own purity. When an Israelite violated a kosher law there were various remedies that must be followed. For example, If someone touched the carcass of an unclean animal he was to wash his clothes and remain unclean until evening (Lev. 11:25). Other, more severe cases, required that certain animal sacrifices be offered (Lev. 5:6).

Jews also considered Gentiles as unclean and were not permitted to keep company with them (Acts 10:28).  The reason Peter was given the vision of the unclean animals in Acts 10 was to reveal that Gentiles were now acceptable to God and should be accepted as equals. Gentiles could now have a relationship with God, not through animal sacrifices, but because Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was now available to all.

When Peter hesitated eating an unclean animal God’s response was, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). Peter’s vision then has little to do with what they ate but was given to show that anyone desiring to know and serve God could come to Him through the merit of Christ.

Most Christians today believe we are no longer restricted in what to eat. Israel’s dietary laws were meant to keep them apart from the sinful practices and influences of the Gentiles. But, on a spiritual level, that same principle of staying away from sin and living holy lives still applies and is termed “sanctification.”

To learn more about what the law means for Christians listen to, “Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Me?”