By Bailey Cadman
Occasionally sincere Bible-believers will ask us whether the Bible does not say that pork is unclean, and therefore question whether Christians ought to eat it. “Now that’s a good question,” as my brother-minister R.C. Sproul says. So let’s go to the Bible and ask, “is eating pork unclean?”
One of the early names we considered for our ranch was “Thousand Hills Ranch.” The idea is from Psalm 50:10—“For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (NKJ). What a beautiful truth that is! The cattle on a thousand hills belong to God, not anyone else. He created them and they are His. And not only the cattle on a thousand hills, but all the cattle on all the hills in all the world belong to the Lord God. And not only all the cattle are His, but so are all the horses and chickens and sheep and goats… and all the pigs. They are His, too!
And since all animals (as well as all plants, of course) belong to God, we human beings have the privilege to eat them only because God has given us that privilege. And, as we look closely into the Bible, we see that God did indeed give mankind the privilege of eating food—which belongs to God. And so, when God created man, He said to him—“See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed: to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29). But, you may ask, I see that God did not give mankind permission to eat meat only plants. Maybe we’re supposed to be vegetarians!
But let’s not be too hasty. It was only after Noah’s flood that God gave men the privilege of eating flesh. To Noah and his descendants God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Genesis 9:3).
And so, from Noah on, mankind, the godly as well as the ungodly, were given God’s permission to eat flesh, that is, meat and fish and so on. And not just some kinds of flesh. God said, “every moving thing that lives… all things,” no animals excluded. And so Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the Twelve Patriarchs, along with all other people, enjoyed eating cattle and sheep and goats… and pork! Imagine that! Abraham eating pork!
It was only hundreds of years later, during the life of Moses, that God took back permission from the Jews to eat certain kinds of animals. You can read about those Jewish ceremonial laws of clean and unclean foods especially in Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11, along with many, many other ceremonial restrictions. It is only in Leviticus 11:7 that eating pork is forbidden to God’s people for the very first time—“… and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.” This is where and when pork in all its forms (including ham, bacon, sausage, etc.) was declared unclean, as well as, for example, rabbit, along with all seafood which lacks fins or scales, like shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, etc. Jews were to consider all these foods unclean and to totally abstain from them.
All of these ceremonial laws were given to govern the lives of all Jews. For how long? Until God would say otherwise.
God did indeed say otherwise. When Jesus, the Son of God, walked this earth, He Himself declared that the clean/unclean food laws of the Old Testament were now abolished by God. You can read about it, for example, in Mark 7:18-19, where Jesus tells His disciples, “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)” (NAS).
That “all foods” have been declared clean by Jesus’ saving ministry is made even clearer to the Apostle Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. You may recall that puzzling event when Peter is on a housetop praying and falls into a trance and sees a vision of a great sheet filled with “all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things (!), and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12). “All kinds” of animals were included—clean as well as unclean. Then God startled Peter, who had always been scrupulously kosher. God commanded Peter to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). To use my own translation of Peter’s response, the sometimes rambunctious Apostle answers, “No way, Lord! I’m kosher!” (See verse 14). Peter is reminding God that, since the time of Moses and the ceremonial laws given at Mt. Sinai, it has been a sin for Jews to eat anything which God had declared to be unclean. As if God needed reminding. So then God somewhat sharply puts Peter in his place—“What God has declared clean you must not call common” (Acts 10:15).
And so that is the answer to our original question—Is Eating Pork Unclean? The answer is still the same as the one given to Peter so long ago. What God has declared clean let no man call unclean. And so pork is clean.
It has occasionally been maintained that God sent this vision as a kind of symbolic representation of the fact that God was calling Gentiles as well as Jews to be Christians, cleansing them by the blood of Christ. That is true, of course, but the reason that is so is because Gentile foods, including pork, have been declared clean by God Himself. And, in addition, God DID say, “kill and eat.” He was not talking directly about Gentile, but about pigs!
In Christ the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have come to an end—no more sacrifices, no more Levitical priesthood, no more cleanliness laws. Those “dividing walls” (see Ephesians 2:14-16), separating Jews and Gentiles, have been torn down in Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice. As the writer of Hebrews points out over and over again, why would you keep the ceremonial shadows of Christ, when the Reality has come?
And so, Peter and all Christians, have, in Christ, received freedom from the ceremonial laws imposed on the Jews until Messiah should come. And in Christ, the same freedom to eat of “every moving thing” (Genesis 9:3), given to Noah and Abraham and all God’s people before the Law of Sinai, has been restored to God’s people once again. Christians may eat pork because God has declared it once more to be clean.
“What God has declared clean you must not call common” (Acts 10:15).
Pork is one of those “foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1Timothy 4:3).
When we Christians finally sit down at table with Abraham, pork may well be on the menu!