Leviticus 11-12: Clean and Unclean

What does it mean to be unclean? That is an important question one should ask themselves while reading these chapters in Leviticus (or when thinking on the topic in general). As someone who grew up on a farm I can attest that God definitely didn't mean clean and unclean in a literal sense because chickens, considered clean in the Bible, are some of the dirtiest animals I've ever seen.
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What does it mean to be unclean? That is an important question one should ask themselves while reading these chapters in Leviticus (or when thinking on the topic in general). As someone who grew up on a farm I can attest that God definitely didn't mean clean and unclean in a literal sense because chickens, considered clean in the Bible, are some of the dirtiest animals I've ever seen. Clean and unclean are perhaps being used to describe things that are safe versus unsafe. In this post I will discuss what God describes as clean versus unclean in these chapters and discuss a few reasons why they may be safe or unsafe for us. I would also like to direct you to the post entitled The Christian Diet which discusses whether we are to abide by the dietary laws as Christians. Some view the dietary laws as solely a method to discern safe and unsafe foods (leading them to believe it can be altered as new methods arise to prevent such food from killing us), however there may also be symbolic reasoning behind these distinctions. It can be observed that the animals we are forbidden to eat are mostly scavengers. Not only does that indicate a violent nature within the animal, but it increases the animals' chance of being contaminated with diseases (since it can acquire the disease from the flesh it eats).


The biggest question question concerning these laws is whether they apply to us today; I tackled this issue in The Christian Diet. The second biggest question about clean and unclean is whether God is outlining unhealthy foods or restricting our diet for symbolic reasons. The animals listed as unclean are mostly scavengers that survive off of sick or dead animals (like buzzards).[5] Most of these animals do prove hazardous to the human diet (see the "Should I Eat It?" series to the right and below). There are risks to some clean animals—particularly those injected with hormones, antibiotics, etc.—which makes sense, because man was created to be vegetarian and many industries cut corners or alter God's design to make more money. Also as people, we are prone to gluttony; we are likely to simply eat more than what is safe.

Initially, God is telling us what is clean to eat. Later in the chapter He tells us it is unclean to touch the dead carcass of an animal not killed for food or sacrifice. This is logical, a dead animal may have died of any number of diseases that could be transferable to humans. God also describes situations that make you unclean. Many question why God creates animals and deems them good, then calls them unclean. For starters, in the beginning when God creates the animals and calls them good, mankind was vegetarian (man doesn't become omnivorous until after the flood) so good doesn't apply to their dietary value but to their presence and creation overall. Further, I love my cat and dog—they are good—I don't want people eating them or offering them as sacrifices... Their role in life just simply wasn't for man's consumption.

Along with the animals being unclean, God also designates how long a person is to be unclean after coming into contact with a carcass. God also tells us how to handle dishes and cutlery that come into contact with unclean animals. Anything porous was to be destroyed, but things made of metal could be saved and where clean after a specified time.

Man's Uncleanness

Animals are not the only unclean discussion of the Bible. Essentially, emission of bodily fluid make humans unclean. This includes semen for men and monthly menstruation for women. Leviticus 12 specifies that after having a baby, a woman must follow a purification ritual. For a male child, she was to be separated until the eighth day, when the child was to be circumcised. Because the mother was permitted to attend the circumcision, this act broke her separation and likely acted as an accelerated cleansing agent. After the ceremony she was considered unclean for an additional 33 days. For a female child, the time a woman had to be separated from the community and the time she was unclean was doubled (2 weeks and 66 days respectively). It is suggested that the rationale for this may because the child will eventually bear child in the Holman KJV Study Bible,[6] but to me it makes more sense to double the time for a male who will never bear children than for the female child who will likely one day have to endure the same ordeal. No one knows the mind of God, so it is not impossible that this was the logic behind God's command, however, I do not have much faith in the editors' conclusion on why the time was doubled. God doesn't specify why this is necessary and it could be anything from more value to male children (which many non-believers would like to believe to use against the Bible) to a need to be up on one's feet sooner to follow the extra energy of a male child. What I do know, is that when God goes on to discuss the offering that must be made following this period, is the same for both male and female children. This implies that they had the same value in terms of atonement.



Swine, the source of pork, is the most well known unclean animal, but many only think of pork as unclean. God tells us that the only clean land animals are those with split hooves that chew the cud. Hoofed animals with clovenfeet, or split hooves, are even toed animals of belonging to the ungulates family, specifically of the order Artiodactyla. All clean hoofed animals fall into this category; along with the unclean swine and hippopotamuses. This order is the largest order of mammals and the most beneficial order culturally and economically for humans. Several examples of what is acceptable versus not acceptable are given in the Bible between Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8, those and a few others are given below.
Clean Unclean
Any animal that divides the hoof and chews the cud Animals that do not meet both criteria for clean animals
  • Camel
  • Coney (rabbit)
  • Hare
  • Swine -> pork
  • Bison
  • Caribou
  • Cattle -> beef/veal
  • Elk
  • Giraffe
  • Moose
  • Reindeer
  • Horse
  • Hippopotamus
  • Zebra
  • Rhinoceros


Other Land Animals

Many other land animals are listed as unclean.
Clean Unclean
Those not unclean Animals that go on all fours on paws, go on their belly, or have "more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth"
  • Locust
  • Beetles
  • Grasshoppers
  • Weasels
  • Mice (possibly refers to a rat as well)
  • Tortoise
  • Ferrets
  • Chameleons
  • Lizards
  • Snails
  • Moles
  • All flying creeping things (except locust, beetles, and grasshoppers)*
  • Snakes
*Many non-believers cite the statement of creeping things (a reference to insects) having 4 legs. Please see In the Name of Faith: Don't Let the Misguided Turn You From God to see my thoughts on this "issue" if you are curious.


People often skip the restrictions on seafood, focusing on pork (as though pork is the only unclean meat there is); however, God tells the Israelites that the only animals in the sea they may eat are those with fins and scales. The Bible does not provide a list of clean verses unclean fish for reference, probably because there are so many animals in the sea. Some of the common seafood entrees are classified below.
Clean Unclean
Sea creatures with both fins and scales Animals that do not meet both criteria for clean animals
  • Anchovy
  • Bass
  • Grouper
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Snapper
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Whiting
  • Crab
  • Clam
  • Catfish
  • Crayfish/Crawdads
  • Eel
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Lobster
  • Squid -> calamari



God doesn't give us a specific criteria for fowl; instead He simply names those that are unclean.
Clean Unclean
Birds not listed as unclean Birds listed in Leviticus 11:13-19
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Quail
  • Eagles
  • Ossifrage
  • Osprey
  • Vulture
  • Kite
  • Raven
  • Owl
  • Night Hawk
  • Cuckow (or Cuckoo)
  • Hawk
  • Cormorant
  • Swan
  • Pelican
  • Stork
  • Heron
  • Lapwing
  • Bat


  1. "Pygrag". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2015
  2. Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Pygrag". Easton's Bible Dictionary. 2015
  3. "What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats". United Church of God. April 2013
  4. "Hoffed Mammals". Monroe County Women's Disability Network. 2015
  5. Patterson, Susan. "God’s Dietary Laws: Why Pigs, Crabs And Lobsters Are Bad For You". Off the Grid News. 2015
  6. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg.196. 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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