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#29 — The Dietary Law Today

By Monte Kline, Ph.D.

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One of the most interesting (and certainly most controversial) aspects of the biblical perspective on health is the Old Testament dietary laws.  Even to suggest that these 3000 year old laws just might have some relevance to 20th century Christians, will get you quickly branded as a “legalist” in most Christian circles.  Of course in contemporary Christianity perhaps the best definition of a legalist is someone who acts on convictions you don’t happen to possess, someone who is obeying God in a way you are not!

I have been a student of the health relevance of the Old Testament dietary law for over 25 years.  During that time I have fairly strictly followed those eating guidelines, and consider them to be a significant part of my own personal health formula.  I encourage other Christians to follow the dietary law for health reasons alone.  And just for the record, I see no spiritual benefit or merit for a Christian to follow the dietary law.  It’s strictly a health issue.


The Dietary Law is found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  The laws distinguished the clean and edible animals from the unclean and inedible animals.  Mammals had to be cud-chewing and have cloven hooves to be edible.  This made cows, goats, sheep, deer, etc. edible, while pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, horses, etc. were inedible.  Water life had to have fins and scales to be edible.  Thus most fish we eat today such as cod, trout, salmon, etc. were okay, but shellfish, eels sharks, catfish, squid, etc. did not pass that test. Among the birds restricted were basically birds of prey, such as falcons and eagles, as well as scavenger birds like vultures.  Insects with jointed legs, such as locusts, were considered edible.

Other Mosaic Law passages give further dietary instruction including the prohibition against eating blood (Lev. 17:10-11), animal fat (Lev. 7:23-24) and mixing milk and meat at the same meal (Exod. 23:19).  Still other laws related to slaughtering methods, not eating diseased animals, and washing of hands and cooking utensils.

Much of the Dietary Law has been incorporated into Western culture.  We don’t eat dogs and cats, spiders, maggots, etc. — all of which are forbidden in the Dietary Law.  Likewise, Western civilization is built upon other biblical principles of health and sanitation — principles like washing in running water, digging your latrine away from the camp, and quarantining those with communicable diseases (except for “politically protected” communicable diseases like AIDS).  The main deviation from the Dietary Law in our culture in eating  pigs and shellfish — two of the unhealthiest foods you can eat!


Leviticus 11:47 defines the purpose of the Dietary Law:

 . . . to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten.

This passage beautifully shows the two purposes of the Dietary Law:

  1. Distinguishing the “clean” from the “unclean”
  2. Distinguishing the “edible” from the “inedible”

“Clean” and “unclean” refers to the ceremonial laws.  Only clean animals could be offered as a sacrifice in the Old Testament sacrificial system.  This aspect of the Dietary Law has obviously been fulfilled by Christ, who as the final, complete sacrifice for sin, ended the Old Testament sacrificial system (Heb. 10:1-18).  But here comes the error:  Many Bible expositors, seeing only this purpose of the Dietary Law, rule it totally irrelevant for today.

However, the “edible” and “inedible” distinction noted in Leviticus 11:47 isn’t talking about ceremonial sacrifices — it’s talking about food, about nourishment, about health.  The children of Israel were promised health if they kept God’s laws:

If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.     (Exodus 15:26)

Part of those “commandments” that would produce health was the Dietary Law.  Thus, the Dietary Law was also based on Health, not just ceremony in the sacrificial system . . . as now proven by modern science.


While science “discovered” the problem of eating animal fat in recent years, it was prohibited in the Dietary Law 3000 years ago!  I want to focus, though,  on a most interesting article published in 1953 in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, published by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a study entitled “An Experimental Pharmacological Appreciation of Leviticus XI and Deuteronomy XIV” by David I. Macht, M.D.

Dr. Macht tested extracts of meats of the various “clean” and “unclean” animals according to the Dietary Law, including 54 kinds of fish, using a standard toxicological test.  The results were absolutely amazing for a scientific study!  Every single animal meat that the Dietary Law said was inedible tested out as toxic in Dr. Macht’s experiments.  Every single animal meat that God said was edible tested out as non-toxic.  There was a 100% correlation between the Dietary Law and the scientific study!


Basically, the Dietary Law is a prohibition against eating scavenger animals.  For example, pigs are scavengers that will eat almost anything.  Obviously an animal that eats filth won’t have very healthy flesh—like us, they too are what they eat.  But even if the swine’s diet is controlled, its simple digestive system does little to purify the food it does eat.  Food becomes flesh on the pig in two hours after consumption.  Compare that with a clean, cud-chewing animal like the cow which requires 24 hours to turn food into flesh due to its more complicated digestive tract with four stomachs.  The more digestion, the more purification of the food, and the less toxicity.

Trichinosis parasites have long been associated with pork, some authorities indicating that as many as 25% of all Americans are infected.  Hubert O. Swartout, M.D., a member of the American Board of Preventive Medicine and Public Health warns:

Pork, moreover, is objectionable from other points of view than the danger of contracting trichinosis.  It contains a larger portion of fats than most other flesh foods.  It is difficult to digest.  The undulant fever due to the swine type of germ is on the average more severe than that due to either the cattle or goat type.  It is no wonder that from the earliest times of Old Testament history swine have been classed as ‘unclean’.

Just as pigs are scavengers on land, so shellfish are scavengers in the ocean.  It is common knowledge from hygiene textbooks that oysters frequently transmit typhoid.  Eating shellfish from polluted waters, such as the deadly “red tide,” is often prohibited because their digestive system does not filter out their accumulated toxicity. Even if the Bible were silent on this subject, there is more than enough scientific evidence to motivate a prudent person to avoid the “unclean” animals for health reasons.


Is it “legalistic” to follow the dietary laws for better health objectives?  For some people I would say the answer is “yes,” while for others it would be “no.”  Obeying the Mosaic Law doesn’t make you a legalist; obeying it with the wrong motivation does.  You know, it’s amazing!  I’ve never been accused of being a legalist because I’ve obeyed the Mosaic Law and not murdered anyone.  Though like most males in America I have been circumcised, no one has ever waved Galatians 5:2 under my nose where Paul says, “. . . if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.”  So, how come?

In the strict New Testament sense, legalism means believing one isn’t saved unless in addition to having faith in Christ, he also keeps the Mosaic Law (or certain portions of it such as circumcision).  For example, legalistic Jews in the early church were teaching Gentile Christians that they also had to be circumcised to be saved.  Paul spent most of the letter to the Galatians rebuking this heresy.  Any teaching that says “faith plus anything else” to be justified or sanctified is legalism.  If you think any activity gains you some kind of spiritual merit with God, that’s legalism.

As stated earlier, there is no question that Christ’s death on the cross eliminated the ceremonial significance to the Dietary Law.  But Christ’s sacrifice in no way changed either the anatomy of a human being or the anatomy of a pig or other unclean animal!  Unclean animals that were physically unhealthy to eat in the days of Moses are just as unhealthy today.


Several New Testament passages are cited as proof that Christians should not follow the Dietary Law.  Generally these are taken out of context:

1. Peter’s Vision — In Acts 10 & 11 we read of Peter’s vision, in which a sheet was lowered from Heaven with unclean animals, while God said, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat.”  After Peter objects, God says, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  Interestingly enough, Peter’s own interpretation of the vision was notthat it was okay for Christians to eat pigs, shellfish, etc.  Rather, his interpretation in Acts 10:28 was, “God has shown me that I should no longer consider any manunholy or unclean.”  The result was that the Church started preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, who were symbolized by the unclean animals,  instead of just to the Jews.

2. “All Foods Clean” — In Mark 7:18-23 Jesus said that whatever goes into a man from the outside does not defile him, but rather what comes from the inside, from his heart, defiles him.  The passage even says in parentheses:  “Thus He declared all foods clean.”  The question I would ask is, “Defiles him how — physically or spiritually?”  The context is clear:  Jesus is talking about spiritual defilement, that is, being unacceptable before God.  Food wasn’t going to spiritually defile you and send you to Hell, like the Pharisees thought, but what was in your heart certainly could.  The passage has nothing to do with physical health, and is thus out of context when used to nullify the health value of the Dietary Law.

3. “Everything Good for Food”? — I Timothy 4:4-5 reads:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.  (New American Standard Bible)

If it means every creature is good and healthy to eat, you better expand your diet to snakes, eels, lizards, maggots, spiders, etc. What the passage literally says is for once better translated in the King James Version, where is says, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing . . . “  In the context of food, what would a first century Christian of Jewish background think a creature “of God” was?  Perhaps a clean animal from the Dietary Law?  The passage is again in the context of legalistic spiritual merit from eating or abstaining from certain foods.  In their proper context no New Testament passage forbids following the Dietary Law for health reasons . . . and those health reasons are as valid today as they were 3000 years ago.

To get a FREE 30-Minute PHONE CONSULTATION($80 Value) with Dr. Kline, to discuss your health concerns, with no obligation, click on the link below:


Better Health Update is published by Pacific Health Center, PO Box 857, Sahuarita, AZ 85629, providing remote “virtual health screening” appointments anywhere in the world.  Phone (800) 255-4246.  E-Mail: drkline@pacifichealthcenter.com. Monte Kline, Ph.D., Author. Reproduction Prohibited.


DISCLAIMER:  The information contained in this publication is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended to diagnose illness nor prescribe treatment.  Rather, this material  is designed to be used in cooperation with your nutritionally-oriented health professional to deal with your personal health problems.  Should you use this information on your own, you are prescribing for yourself, which is your constitutional right, but neither the author nor publisher assume responsibility.






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