Editor’s note: This is part 2 in a 3-part series by the author on dietary laws in the Bible. The views are those of the author. Read part 1 here.
God’s dietary laws prohibit eating carnivorous animals. Just as God created clean animals for food and by-products that humans could use, he created unclean animals for other reasons. Carnivores are prey animals that help to control the populations of other animals. Such is the case with mountain lion and wolves who keep deer populations in check. This helps keep the deer population down and weeds out the old and sick members of the herd naturally. This is just one good reason why we should not eat carnivores — sick animals could transmit disease.
Leviticus 11:7-8 and Deuteronomy 14:8 mention specifically that pigs are unclean and not fit for human consumption. Domesticated pigs have been used for a very long time as scavengers and will eat anything from garbage to dead animals and human wastes. Today, pigs in America consume more than 20 percent of the corn harvested in our country. Feeding corn, wheat and barley to pigs puts them in direct competition with our food crops. This is probably one good reason why God declared them unfit to eat. Jesus even allowed a herd of pigs to run off the edge of the cliff after He cast demons into them. This showed how little regard he had for them – or just how invaluable he found them to be.
Pigs, along with other unclean animals, can also transmit trichinosis to humans. This is caused by a small roundworm that finds its way into animal and human muscle. Bear meat, walrus and pig have all been a major player in transmitting infections to humans.
In Leviticus, the laws concerning aquatic creatures are addressed:
These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat…. Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales—that shall be an abomination to you. Leviticus 11:9, 12
Science reveals what may have been God’s reasons for declaring certain sea creatures unfit for human consumption. Clean fish are those that swim in bodies of water while unclean sea life is comprised mostly of predatory scavengers or bottom dwellers. The fish and sea life that do the ocean cleaning are full of toxins and can be harmful to human health. Poisonous fish are generally covered in bristles, spiny scales, thorns or spines and do not have any true scales.
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Even though the Biblical dietary laws would have us eat the safest of fish we must still be very careful. Many of these fish are now polluted with heavy metals, as the health and balance of ocean ecosystems becomes disrupted — mostly due to overfishing, toxic chemical spills and pollution.
What about shellfish, crabs and lobster?
Shellfish such as crab and lobster do not have fins or scales and are therefore prohibited for human consumption under biblical dietary laws. However, shellfish is a multi-billion dollar business and eating such aquatic life considered a delicacy in most parts of the world. We know that everything God created has a purpose; so what is the purpose of shellfish, then?
Lobsters are nocturnal bottom walkers and scavengers that scavenge for dead animals and debris on the ocean floor – they are like the vultures of the oceans. Lobsters have even been seen burying dead fish and digging them up a little at a time to eat. Crabs will eat just about anything and are known as professional garbage hunters.
The Encyclopedia of Aquatic Life tells us that crabs, common shrimp and lobsters all feed off of dead and decaying matter. Therein lies their occupation — they were created to be the cleanup crew for the bottoms of lakes, rivers and oceans. They were not intended to be eaten by human beings. Eating raw or undercooked crabs, crayfish, shrimp or snails puts anyone at risk of a severe parasitic infection.
Closer observation of oysters, mussels, scallops and clams shows us that God also had a very significant purpose for these creatures. They are found in streams, coastal areas and lakes and are considered filter-feeders. They are stationary — meaning they do not go hunting for their food but rather pump large amounts of water over their gills, trapping small pieces of silt, bacteria, viruses and plant debris for their dinner. The International Wildlife Encyclopedia tells us that mussels and other filter-feeders are the ultimate scavengers of the sea. They are the detail cleaners, so to speak. Their role is to purify the water.
Now, you have to ask yourself, once you really understand the role that these creatures play in their natural habitat, do you still want to eat them? Eating scavengers and filter-feeders is kind of like eating whatever is in your vacuum cleaner bag or septic tank. When scavenger and filter feeders make meals out of dead, decaying material along with pathogenic viruses, heavy metals and nerve toxins and we eat them — we are also eating all that they have eaten!
According to the FDA, raw oysters, mussels and clams are responsible for 85 percent of all illnesses caused by eating seafood. Such conditions as hepatitis A, salmonella, Norwalk virus, cholera and paralytic shellfish poisoning are just a few of the problems that are often linked to shellfish consumption. The more waste we dump into our oceans, lakes and streams, the greater the risk of getting sick from eating shellfish and other aquatic scavengers becomes.
Think about this: Pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are warned against handling uncooked shellfish. If God’s dietary laws prohibiting the consumption of anything without fins or scales were followed, there would be no reason for such a warning.
Birds and Bugs
God did not leave birds, reptiles and insects uncovered in His laws. Carnivorous birds are obviously very important to controlling the populations of other groups of animals. Because these birds eat the flesh and blood of their prey, they become possible agents for transmitting disease and are unclean. Birds that prey on fish also accumulate a large amount of toxic chemicals in their bodies and are also prohibited.
Leviticus 11: 29-30; 42-43 tells us that reptiles are also unclean. Only insects from the locust and grasshopper family are permissible and have been used as a food source in the Middle East for thousands of years. John the Baptist is recorded to have eaten a diet comprised of honey and locusts.
Next in the series: Are Old Testament dietary laws still applicable today?
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