Clean and Unclean

I tend to want to skip over portions of Scripture like Leviticus 11-15 that discuss dietary laws and learning how to discern clean and unclean...but there's something there. Something that runs like a thread through Scripture. God, from the beginning has separated light from darkness, clean from unclean. He called Noah to put seven of every clean, two of every unclean animal in the ark. Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher, said the reason for the dietary laws was to "train us to master our appetites; to accustom us to restrain our desires; and to avoid considering the pleasure of eating and drinking as the goal of man's existence." Modern off-the-cuff interpreters seem bent on saying that God knew science before science knew science, that he ultimately knew what was good for our bodies to consume, good hygeine, etc. Both Maimonides and modern interpretations about the reasons for the Levitical dietary laws belie the fact of God's ultimate reasoning: "I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy" (Lev 11:44-45, NIV).

God knows his creation and its design. He knew he designed a vulture to eat corrian (road kill) and that we should detest such. BTW, my cat brought in a baby vulture (buzzard) the other day. I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall...does a buzzard circle around the dead carcass of its own? But the overriding point of not skipping over the dietary laws in Leviticus is that God, in his infinite wisdom, knows his creation and how to live with discretion within it, how to honor life and blood and revere the world in which we live. He also knew that neighboring nations to the Israelites used pigs in their pagan practices and the new community of faith that was Israel would be distinguished from the nations by their discretion of certain hooved and cud chewing animals and leaving belly crawling snakes (also the stuff of pagan ritual) alone.

Again, none of these explanations encompass the whole scope of God's reasons for dietary laws. In fact, the Jews have a word for dietary laws like the ones found in Levitcus 11-15: chukim. Chukim (shoe-keem) means mandatory laws that must be followed regardless of the sense they make. But the questions still remain, and certainly they remained even into NT days and today.

Jesus spoke about clean and unclean (Mt 15; Mk 7). His focus, however, was on the paradox of the Pharisees following dietary and washing rituals yet being the ones who were truly unclean while the leper, who would by law need to cry out "unclean" was found to be made clean by Jesus. Jesus "cleansed" outside the temple and outside the rituals of temple (heresy to them, much the same way John the Baptist claimed to ritually purify in the Jordan, outside the temple). All this becomes incredibly rich and more meaningful when beginning with the whole idea of clean and unclean in Leviticus (and even in creation, Noah, etc. accounts).

GeneralGreg Taylor