Understanding Clean and Unclean Foods
Home  ⇨  Education   ⇨   Understanding Clean and Unclean Foods
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’ ” — 2 Corinthians 6:16–18 (ESV)

"You may eat any animal that has split hoofs completely divided and that chews the cud."

Clean and Unclean

The Bible has much to say about clean and unclean animals, birds, fish, etc. In ancient Israel, God gave them laws to tell them what they could eat and what was forbidden. This was because our Creator knows what is edible and what is unfit to go into our bodies.

We can read about the clean and unclean foods in the Bible. Start with Leviticus 11:1–8 (NCV):

“1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 2 ‘Tell the Israelites this: “These are the land animals you may eat: 3 You may eat any animal that has split hoofs completely divided and that chews the cud.

4 Some animals only chew the cud or only have split hoofs, and you must not eat them. The camel chews the cud but does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. 5 The rock badger chews the cud but does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. 6 The rabbit chews the cud but does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. 7 Now the pig has a split hoof that is completely divided, but it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8 You must not eat the meat from these animals or even touch their dead bodies; they are unclean for you.” ’ ”

Verse 3 in particular gives the definitive guide to what animals are clean: those with a split hoof and which chew the cud. Some examples follow which shows that having just one of those characteristics by itself is not enough, it has to have both. Thus things like rabbits and pigs are unclean and not fit for human consumption.

Verse 9 tells us that amongst sea creatures, only those with fins and scales can be eaten. This automatically excludes things like shellfish, prawns, shrimps, eels, oysters, although some people will eat those things. God says that anything in the sea without fins and scales (it must be both) is unclean.

Clean and Unclean Birds

It then goes on to give examples of unclean birds. So what birds are clean?

Deuteronomy 14:11–19 (NKJV) tells us:

“11 All clean birds you may eat. 12 But these you shall not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, 13 the red kite, the falcon, and the kite after their kinds; 14 every raven after its kind; 15 the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after their kinds; 16 the little owl, the screech owl, the white owl, 17 the jackdaw, the carrion vulture, the fisher owl, 18 the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe and the bat. 19 Also every creeping thing that flies is unclean for you; they shall not be eaten.”

Quoting now from an article by George Lujack about ducks, geese, and swans, we read:

“Scripture does not specify what clean birds may be eaten; so many Jewish rabbinical authorities have determined that any bird that is not a predatory bird of prey or a carrion-eating scavenger, and is not listed specifically as unclean, is to be considered a clean kosher bird. The conclusion that all birds not listed among the unclean fowl are assumed to be clean and kosher is erroneous.

Since Scripture merely states that we may eat all clean birds, but does not mention what those clean birds are, a little Scripture investigative study is necessary in determining the identity of clean birds.

Scripture states we are not to eat unclean birds and those after their kind. After their kind, in this case, would include after their kind of characteristics and features.

The characteristics and features of clean birds can be determined from the Scripturally known clean birds; namely the dove (turtledove), pigeon, and quail (Leviticus 1:14–17, 12:8, 14:22, 15:14–15; Psalm 105:40; Matthew 3:16, 21:12; Mark 1:10, 11:15; Luke 2:24, 3:22; John 1:32, 2:14–16).

Chickens are clean birds and may be eaten

The turtledove and pigeon are clean birds as they were used in sacrifices and only clean birds could be used for sacrifices (Leviticus 1:14–17, 12:8, 14:22, 15:14–15). A dove (the Holy Spirit) descended upon Yeshua (Jesus), illustrating that doves are clean birds (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Doves were sold along with oxen and sheep in the Israeli marketplace, further indicating that doves are clean birds (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:14–16). Quails are clean birds as the Lord provided them to the Hebrews for food after the Hebrew exodus from Egypt (Psalm 105:40).

Clean birds have all of the following characteristics:

– they are foragers and are not birds of prey or scavengers

– they have craws or crops

– they have a gizzard with a double lining which can easily be separated

– they have three front toes with an elongated middle front toe and a hind toe

– they spread three front toes on one side of a perch and their hind toe on the other side

– they bring food to the ground and divide it with their bills, if possible, before eating it (whereas some unclean birds devour food in the air, or press down on food with one foot to the ground and tear it with their bills).

Unclean birds lack one or more of the characteristics of clean birds. The characteristics and features of unclean birds can be determined from the list of unclean birds listed in Scripture.

Unclean birds include those that are:

– birds of prey

– carrion-eating scavenger birds

– ratite birds

– web-footed, and zygodactyl-footed birds

– waterfowl

– flying mammals (bats)

In Scripture, the bat is listed with other unclean birds due to its ability to fly. Bats are winged mammals.”

This information should guide us into knowing what the clean and unclean birds are. We cannot rely on Jewish rabbincal authorities, they have rejected Jesus Christ and are not infallible.

So what about ducks, geese, and swans? There are some who say they are clean, some who say they are unclean. The KJV lists the swan as unclean, although that is probably a mistranslation.

Eagles are unclean birds, not to be eaten

Are ducks clean birds? Read the text and see for yourself.

Quoting again from George Lujack:

“The reason why ducks, geese, and swans are unclean is because they lack some of the characteristics and features of clean birds — they do not have crops, they have different body structures than clean birds do, their body fat is intertwined with their flesh, and they have webbed feet.

Ducks, geese, and swans have round-tipped bills. Their bills are used for efficient foraging. As waterfowl their diet includes algae, crawfish, frogs, sea plants, and small fish. Clean birds have beaks that are primarily used for eating grains, insects, and seeds.

In a bird’s digestive system, the crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the gullet or throat. It is a part of the digestive tract, essentially an enlarged part of the esophagus. It is used to temporarily store and pre-digest food. Ducks, geese, and swans do not chew their food and swallow their food whole.

Clean birds possess a crop that aids them in slowly breaking down and digesting their food, which also produces crop milk that is used by them to feed new hatchlings. Ducks, geese, and swans do not chew their food and swallow their food whole.

Ducks, geese, and swans do not have crops.”

Compare these three types of birds with clean and unclean animals. The clean ones all chew the cud. This means that they chew their food, e.g. grass, for a bit, then swallow it down to the first stomach. It then gets regurgitated later back into the mouth to be chewed again, perhaps several times, to ensure proper digestion of the food. Clean birds have a crop which is involved in digestion, as well as chewing their food.

Unclean animals might chew their food, and some even chew the cud, but in general they swallow their foods quickly and have a short digestive system, with the waste matter coming out much sooner than from a clean animal. Unclean birds are similar, and with ducks, geese, and swans, they swallow their food whole and do not spend so much time on digesting the food.

Eat No Fat or Blood

Continuing from George Lujack:

“Ducks, geese, and swans have a high concentration of body fat intertwined throughout their flesh that helps keep them afloat in water and warm in cold weather climates.”

Let us read what God says about eating fat in Leviticus 3:17 (NKJV):

“This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.”

The fat means either fat within the meat which is obvious, as well as that on the outer layer of the body, such as in bacon, which makes pig bacon doubly unclean. This also means that turkey bacon would be unclean due to the fat content. The fat found in the milk of clean animals is okay, as God told the Israelites that He would bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. Animal milk is okay to drink, and its derivatives, such as butter, cheese, and yoghurt, are all okay to eat. But not the fat from just under the skin, or fat in large amounts within the meat.

We are also to avoid eating blood, which is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and reiterated in Acts 15:29. When eating an animal, it must be killed by draining out the blood, such as cutting its throat. The Bible also tells us not to eat anything that dies of itself.

Continuing from George Lujack:

“Due to the dispersion of fat contained within the flesh of ducks, geese, and swans, it is not possible to eat their flesh without consuming their fat. Clean birds do not have body fat intertwined in their flesh. The fat of clean birds is confined primarily to their skin. To avoid eating the fat of clean birds, one only needs to remove the skin and discard it.”

More Characteristics of These Birds

“Ducks, geese, and swans float and glide upon water and they ‘waddle’ when they walk on land, as their legs are set on the sides and toward the rear of their body. They submerge themselves in water to search for and eat food. Clean birds are land-based birds, not waterfowl.

Ducks, geese, and swans use their webbed feet as paddles for swimming and for diving when submerging in water to search for food. Clean birds do not have webbed feet.

The pelican and the seagull are listed in Scripture among the unclean birds. The pelican and seagull possess webbed feet, as do ducks, geese, and swans. The pelican is a bird that glides upon the water and has a high percentage of body fat intertwined within its flesh to keep it buoyant in water, as do ducks, geese, and swans. The pelican is a similar kind of unclean bird that ducks, geese, and swans are.”

It should be clear that the characteristics of ducks, geese, and swans are more typical of unclean birds than of clean birds. Ducks, geese, and swans do not have crops as clean birds do.

To sum up clean birds:

– Clean birds have beaks and do not have bills.

– Clean birds have crops that help them to digest food.

– Clean bird’s fat content is concentrated and confined primarily in their skin, not intertwined in their flesh.

– Clean birds do not glide upon waters.

– Clean birds do not waddle when they walk.

– Clean birds do not submerge themselves in water to search for and eat food.

– Clean birds do not have webbed feet.

There are differences then between clean and unclean birds. The Bible does give us clues as to what the clean birds are, without specifically listing them all.

Ultimately, when it comes to determining whether an animal, bird, or fish is clean or unclean, it is always better to err on the side of caution, and avoid eating something if you are not 100% sure it is clean.

Some Unclean Ingredients

Some food ingredients are unclean because of their content. As Paul says, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Once these unclean ingredients are added to a dish, the whole dish becomes corrupted. God does not want our bodies to be corrupted with uncleanness, commands us not to even touch the carcasses of unclean animals.

Your body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17) if His Holy Spirit dwells within you. Guard yourself from uncleanness and watch out for these ingredients. The physical is a reflection of the spiritual. Listed below are unclean ingredients and some common items these ingredients may be found in.

Gelatin — made from horse bones, pig bones, and the left over parts of other animals that are not used for other products. This product is used to make liquid substances congeal or firm. Commonly found in: some yoghurts, sour cream, marshmallows, skittles, starburst, some types of peanuts, jelly, and various types of sweets (candy).

Kosher Gelatin — even “kosher gelatin” is not kosher; sometimes it is not Levitically clean. Research the source of the gelatin, whether it is clean (bovine or cow) or from unclean animals (like pigs, horses, or porcupines). It is commonly found in similar foods as regular gelatin.

Lard, animal fat, or pig’s fat – made from pig’s fat and is added into many different foods either to add taste, firmness, or for other reasons. Commonly found in: pie crusts, pies, some snack cakes, some seasoned vegetables, some canned beans, and some refried beans. In the UK and elsewhere it used to be used a lot in baked products including biscuits and cakes, but has largely been replaced with vegetable oils (which are not perfectly healthy either).

The best thing you can do is read the ingredients of every item you buy to make sure nothing unclean is in it. I once felt sick after eating some chicken food items that had previously been okay. I checked the ingredients on the box and found that the manufacturer had added pork to the ingredients. I avoided that product afterwards, and it is good practice to avoid processed foods anyway, as you never know what ingredients might be in there, sometimes hidden by using other names, such as “natural flavouring”, which could be from unclean animals, or things like snails.

Is it now okay to eat pigs or not?

Clean and Unclean Today

In ancient Israel they had to sacrifice animals and birds at times. But today we no longer need to do animal sacrifices, as Christ became our supreme sacrifice for our sins, replacing both the old Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices, and became our High Priest, superceding the old ways.

Does it matter now then if we eat unclean animals? It was not just that some animals were “clean” for the sake of a sacrifice. It is also a health issue. God designed our bodies and knows what foods are best for us. The clean animals, birds, and fish are still the only ones we can eat. We should not eat unclean things like pork, bacon, eels, shellfish, etc.

Some would argue that we can eat unclean animals now, that Jesus said we could. This is an error, based on a spurious addition to Scripture, found in some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version. The NIV in general is not a reliable translation, and in many places misses out whole verses.

But in Mark 7:19, the NIV adds some words:

“For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)”

There are other translations that make this mistake as well. But some do not, so we should compare with other versions:

“because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” (NKJV)

“because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” (MEV)

“Because it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then into the sewer, thereby expelling all foods.” (ISV)

“For it does not enter his heart but goes into his stomach and goes out of him into the latrine — in this way all foods are purified.” (EHV)

Look at a Greek text, such as Tyndale House Greek New Testament:

“ὅτι οὐκ εἰσπορεύεται αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἀλλ᾽ εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα ἐκπορεύεται καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα.” which tranlates into English as: “That it is in the heart of the heart but in the abdomen and in the abdomen always cleansed of cleansing.”

Some other Greek manuscripts translate it as something like:

“That he does not get into heart but to the abdomen and in the aftermath he is always cleaning the stains.”

There is nothing in most Greek manuscripts about Jesus declaring all foods clean. Looking at the context, we see that the Pharisees were challenging Jesus about eating with dirty hands, as we see in Mark 7:1–5 (NLT):

“1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to — such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, ‘Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.’ ”

The Pharisees were concerned about their own traditions, not clean and unclean foods. If you read what Jesus replied, you see that He was talking about what defiles a person. The Jews were concerned that a bit of dirt on their hands would defile them. Christ said that it did not matter, as the dirt would be eliminated from the bowels in the natural course of time. He said that what was in a person’s heart would defile a person. He looked at the spiritual aspect of things. He said the Pharisees were “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (verse 7).

Thus we should see that Mark 7:19 did not in the original Greek state that Jesus declared all foods clean. If this had been the case, it does not fit the context, and we should expect further confirmation of this elsewhere in the Gospels. There are no other indications in the Gospels that any unclean foods are now safe to eat, and we should continue to avoid anything unclean.

Peter’s Vision

There is also the matter of the vision that the Apostle Peter had, which to some may seem to be saying that we can eat unclean foods now. We can read about it in Acts 10. In the first few verses we see a Roman centurion called Cornelius seeing a vision of an angel. We are told that he already feared God, even though he was a Gentile, not a Jew.

The angel told him to contact the Apostle Peter, so Cornelius got three of his men to fetch Peter, who was living in Joppa.

Read Acts 10:9–16 (NKJV):

“9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance 11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’

14 But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’

15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.”

At first glance it seems that God is showing Peter a vision of unclean animals and telling him to eat them. Peter correctly replies that he has never eating anything unclean. The vision is shown to him three times, and the voice says that what God has cleansed Peter should not call common.

So what was cleansed? Was it unclean animals? Look at the context. Cornelius was sending three Gentile men to Peter, and Peter saw a vision three times. The Jews regarded the Gentiles as common or unclean people, and God said not to call them common, i.e. the Gentiles.

Peter had grown up as a devout Jew, with the normal prejudices about Gentiles. It was taking some time for him to get over it, so God sent a vision that would get his attention, using unclean animals as an analogy for the Gentiles. In other words, God was showing Peter that He was already calling Gentiles to His Church, and Peter should get rid of his prejudices about them.

Verses 17 to 23 show that Peter wondered about the vision, until the three Gentiles arrived, sent by Cornelius, instructed by an angel from God. Peter no doubt understood what the vision meant, and did not start eating unclean meats, but rather changed his attitude towards Gentiles. No more should he regard them as common or unclean.

He later explained it himself, in verse 28 (ESV):

“And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.’ ”

In the next chapter we see that some of “the circumcision party criticized him” (Acts 11:2), complaining that Peter ate with uncircumcised men. Peter went on to explain the vision he had, and how three Gentiles then came to his house, and so on. After hearing Peter’s explanation, they said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18, ESV). The vision was just a metaphor to show Peter and other converted Jews that God was calling Gentiles, not just Jews. They had to get over their prejudices. It was nothing to do with changing their diet.

There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates that unclean foods are now good for food. Nothing in the dietary laws given to ancient Israel has changed — unclean animals are still unclean and bad to eat.

We should not be seeking to find excuses to do something that is bad for our health. In recent years there has been immense pressure placed on people to take an injection of a covid vaccine. Whatever it is, you need to understand that the ingredients are not safe. Some of the ingredients (including all vaccines) come from unclean animals. It is just as bad to have unclean animal products injected into you, as it is to eat them. There may be other pharmaceutical, or even cosmetic, products that contain ingredients from unclean animals. You need to be vigilant and research the ingredients properly. Do not rely on the manufacturers to give you the whole truth. If in doubt, leave it out.

Your body is important. Although God is not trying to save your flesh, but your spirit, and to give you a new spirit body in the resurrection; He has put His Spirit into those whom He has called and chosen, and expects them to look after their bodies.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (ESV):

“16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

And 2 Corinthians 6:16–18 (ESV):

“16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’ ”

The article by George Lujack about Ducks, Geese, and Swans, can be found at http://scripturetruthministries.com/2018/03/23/ducks-geese-and-swans-unclean/ or as a PDF at http://scripturetruthministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/DUCKS-GEESE-AND-SWANS-UNCLEAN-.pdf

View Video of This Article

This is an edited version of the article, made into a video.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.