Would you please explain 1 Timothy 4:1-5? Doesn’t this passage do away with the distinction between clean and unclean animals?


Many try to use this passage to “prove” that we are allowed today to eat whatever man in his twisted mind has decided to devour—including the meat from pigs, dogs, monkeys, rats, cats, squirrels, as well as frogs, snails, ants, scorpions, snakes, lobster, shrimp, shellfish and oysters, just to name a few. However, this is most certainly not what the passage conveys.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 reads, in context:

“(Verse 1) Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, (verse 2) speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, (verse 3) forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (Verse 4) For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; (verse 5) for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

In our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,” we make the following general comments regarding clean and unclean animals:

“…the laws of clean and unclean meat were already in existence at the time of Noah—they did not come into existence at the time of Moses. Noah was specifically told by God to take with him into the ark ‘seven each of every clean animal, a male and a female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and a female’ (Genesis 7:2. Compare also verse 8). Noah offered a burnt offering to God ‘of every clean animal and of every clean bird’ (Genesis 8:20).

“The covenant that God made later with Israel had no effect on the laws of clean and unclean animals—they were already in force long before that covenant was made. And nowhere does God teach us that we are now permitted to eat unclean animals. Notice the curse that God pronounces over those who, at the time of Christ’s return, eat swine’s flesh (Isaiah 66:17; 65:3–4).”

In our Q&A, discussing the consumption of unclean animals, we explain that Jesus Christ did not abolish the distinction between clean and unclean animals. Let us quote a few excerpts from this article:

“Some refer to Mark 7:18-19, stating that Christ made all animals clean and proper for consumption. However, the context of this passage is that the Pharisees criticized Christ’s disciples for eating food with ‘unwashed hands’ (verse 2); that is, without washing their hands first ‘in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders’ (verse 3). Christ said in verses 18-19: ‘… Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’

“This passage does not teach, as some erroneously claim, that Christ made all foods clean. Rather, the word for ‘purifying’ is ‘katharizo,’ meaning ‘cleansing.’ It is used in James 4:8, where sinners are told to cleanse their hands. The Authorized Version translates Mark 7:19 as, ‘… and goes out into the draught, PURGING all meats.’

“Christ was addressing a situation where a little bit of dirt might have been attached to our hands or the CLEAN food. When we eat this, it does not defile us inwardly, as it is eliminated out of the body into the draught. The clean food will be ‘cleansed,’ in that little particles of dirt will be eliminated out of the body. To use the passage in Mark 7 and say that Christ made all unclean animals clean is a willful and deliberate distortion of Scripture.

“Others claim that Acts 10 teaches that God made all food clean. In that passage, Peter had a vision, seeing a great sheet of clean and unclean animals, and a voice asked him to eat. Peter refused and did not eat, although the voice told him that he should not call common what God had cleansed (verse 15). Subsequently, Peter went to the Gentiles, which were treated as common or unclean by the Jews, and baptized them. When confronted by the disciples, who were, at that time, exclusively of Jewish background and descent, Peter explained the meaning of the vision. It had nothing to do with declaring unclean animals as appropriate for human consumption. Rather, Peter said, in verse 28: ‘… God has shown me that I should not call any MAN common or unclean.’ And so, the disciples recognized the purpose of the vision–it was to show the New Testament Church that God had ‘granted to the GENTILES repentance to life’ (Acts 11:18).”

As mentioned, 1 Timothy 4:1-5 is another Scripture used by some in an attempt to “prove” that there is no longer any distinction between clean and unclean animals. But note that this is not what that passage says.

Rather, we learn that some false demonic-inspired preachers prohibit marriage (saying it is defiled or polluted and not as holy as celibacy), and other deceiving teachers say that one must abstain from FOOD which God has created to be received with thanksgiving (compare verse 3). But God never created unclean animals for food. As we have seen, the distinction between clean and unclean animals already existed under Noah, long before Moses; it still existed long after Christ’s death, when Peter refused to eat unclean meat; and it will still exist at the time of Christ’s return, as God will punish those who consume the flesh of pigs and other unclean animals, calling such a practice “abominable.”

In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul is not permitting the consumption of the meat of unclean animals, but he addresses those false preachers who teach against the consumption of meat of CLEAN animals, because of religious reasons. Paul is condemning the concept of that version of vegetarianism that is taught by people believing that they must not eat meat because they perceive it to be holy. (We might think of the belief in “holy” cows in certain parts of the world.) God says through Paul that every creature CREATED FOR FOOD (verse 3) is good and can be eaten, AS IT IS SANCTIFIED BY THE WORD OF GOD (verse 5). God’s Word, the Bible, never sanctified or set aside for consumption unclean animals, but it DOES sanctify or set aside for consumption the meat of every CLEAN animal. We are permitted to eat the flesh of clean animals with thanksgiving, for we believe God and His Word, and we know the truth (verse 3). And such consumption is good (verse 4) and also sanctified by prayer (verse 5), as we thank God (verse 4) and ask Him to bless the food and to set it aside for the nourishing of our bodies.

At least some commentaries are honest enough to admit that the Scripture in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 does not even address, let alone abolish the distinction between clean and unclean animals.

For instance, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible recognizes that the statement in verse 4, “For every creature of God is good,” can be grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted, when taken out of context; and so the following is stated:

“Nor does it mean that all that God has made is good ‘for every object to which it can be applied.’ It is good in its place; good for the purpose for which he made it. But it should not be inferred that a thing which is poisonous in its nature is good for food, ‘because’ it is a creation of God. It is good only in its place, and for the ends for which he intended it. Nor should it be inferred that what God has made is necessarily good ‘after’ it has been perverted by man.”

The creation of unclean animals, even though it is described as good in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, did not occur for the purpose of consumption through man. But a clean animal is “good” for consumption.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible adds:

“For every creature of God is good – That is: Every creature which God has made for man’s nourishment is good for that purpose, and to be thankfully received whenever necessary for the support of human life; and nothing of that sort is at any time to be refused.”

In addition, the People’s New Testament comments:

“Commanding to abstain from meats. The ascetic practices which began to grow up in the church a little later extended to foods. To eat the least palatable food which would sustain life was counted a virtue. These ascetics generally forbade animal food, and some lived only on bread and water. These practices are still found among certain orders of the Latin and Eastern churches.”

A similar explanation is given by Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

“… to abstain from meats: not from some certain meats forbidden by the law of Moses… but from all meats at some certain season of the year, as at what they call the Quadragesima or Lent, and at some days in the week, as Wednesdays and Fridays; and this all under an hypocritical pretence of holiness, and temperance, and keeping under the body, and of mortification; when they are the greatest pamperers of their bodies, and indulge themselves in all manner of sensuality: the evil of this is exposed by the apostle…”

For instance, it is well-known that ultra-orthodox Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays—and especially on “Good Friday”–claiming that they do so in remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion. They prefer to eat fish on that day. But apart from the fact that Christ was not crucified on a Friday, but on a Wednesday [for proof, read our free booklet, “Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery”], the Bible does not prohibit us to eat the meat of a clean animal on the day of His crucifixion. For the real origin of Lent and the Catholic “custom” to eat fish on Friday, please read our Q&A, “Why do some Christians eat fish on ‘Good Friday’?”.

However, God still requires that we abstain from consuming the meat of UNCLEAN animals. For further study, please read our Q&A, listing clean and unclean animals; our Q&A, discussing the use of medicines, vitamins and mineral supplements derived from unclean animals, and the use of gelatin products, which might be derived from parts of unclean animals; and our Q&A, pertaining to the prohibition of eating certain parts of clean animals, such as food and fat.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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