Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Why Such Strict Food Restrictions? (Leviticus 11)

What was the point in God being so strict about what animals are clean to eat and unclean not to eat? The Lord says why, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (v. 44). The reason is that they might be holy since God is holy. Some animals on this list might seem strange to us to be considered unclean, such as pigs (and others not so strange like certain insects!), but I don’t think it’s profitable to spend a lot of time dissecting why each particular animal would be unclean. I’m sure much scholarship has wasted much ink on that already, and I’m not smart enough to be so pedantic about it. Rather, it should be enough that God listed these creatures as unclean for His holy reasons. In short, the reason is: God is God; you are not. Listen to Him. (God repeats these restrictions in Deuteronomy 14:1-21.)

Still, though, I want to suggest that God’s saying, “Be holy, for I am holy,” is not so much a command as it is a promise. A more accurate translation would be, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,’ which is also how St. Peter translates it (1 Peter 1:16), which makes sense because this is how the Septuagint translates it (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Jews mostly used in first century AD and which Jesus quoted from often).

Like others have done many times in the past, we could jump to Acts 10 where Jesus tells Peter to rise and eat, but as a good Jew Peter refuses since he’s not supposed to eat any common and unclean thing. But then Jesus says, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” thus showing Peter that there are no more unclean foods.

Seeing the fulfilment of Leviticus 11 in Acts 10 is fine and even necessary, yet I want to go in another direction. Not only is Leviticus 11 fulfilled in Jesus as He makes every food clean to eat, but even more there is God’s promise that His people shall be holy, which is fulfilled in Christ. This certainly happens by faith, but it also happens in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ body and blood are the purest of all clean things, and He gives them to us to eat and to drink in the Holy Supper. Just as He alludes to in John 6, His body and blood make us holy by faith in what He did on the cross and His actual body and blood make us holy as we eat and drink of it in the Supper.

Theology Terms Used

  • Septuagint: the Koine (common) Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures used most often in Jesus’ day.

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