Themes in Leviticus (03) - Pigging Out (Dietary Code)
Themes in Leviticus (3): Clean and Unclean
Leviticus 11:44 - “‘For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.”
The Old Covenant Concept of Clean and Unclean - One of the instructive aspects of the OT is the concept of “clean and unclean” (Lev. 11-16). This regards food (kosher laws, 11), childbirth (12), leprosy (13-14), discharges (15), and then the cleansing of Day of Atonement (16). Many have assigned the meaning of “clean” as “physically healthy.” However, uncleanness is not “gross,” “dirty,” “unhygienic,” nor “unhealthy.” The concept is ritual defilement and the basic meaning is symbolic in nature. One proof of this is that Jesus could “declare all foods clean” (Mk. 7:19, Acts 10-11). This didn’t change the hygienic or health dimensions. It changed the relation of such creatures/people to the holy place. The meaning of unclean is paralleled in the curses of Gen. 3:13-19. E.g., Clean “cattle” animals “wear shoes” (hooves) and meditate (chew the cud). They do not “crawl on [their] belly” (11:42) or swarm in the cursed ground (like the serpent, Gen. 3:14). Clean fish wear the armor of God (fins/scales) rather than swarm in the cursed mud (11:12). Clean birds are not associated with death or darkness or wilderness (11:13ff). Clean insects (grasshoppers) hop rather than crawl on the cursed ground (11:21). The other laws relate to the curse of childbirth (Gen. 3:15) and sweat/skin leprosy (Gen. 3:16-19). Finally when “the flesh” breaks out from within (as in leprosy or discharges) it ritually defiles. Jesus clearly taught this about clean/unclean: “there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mk. 7:15). What proceeds out of a man is moral impurity which is graphically illustrated in discharges.
The New Covenant Concept of Cleansing - The NT is clear now the whole world is clean through the “Great Day of Atonement” (Lev. 16), Good Friday (1 Cor. 10:26). The power of the last Adam overcomes death/defilement (Mk. 5:25ff/woman with a hemorrhage). “By abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15). “Thus He declared all foods clean” (says Peter through Mark 7:19, see Acts 10:15). “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found”! (Isaac Watts).
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more