Did Noah Eat Pork?

Among the Gentiles who observe the Noachide laws, there is the commonly held view that all meat is to be eaten, including meat which is forbidden to Jews, provided the blood is drained out. This is taken from the covenant that God made with Noah (Genesis 9:3-4) and is supported by the resolution of the Judaising Controversy (Acts 15:20). However, everything that is permitted is not necessarily in accordance with the perfect will of God, and there is reason to believe that the practice of abstinence from unclean meat pre-dates the law of Moses. The distinction between clean and unclean meat is an object lesson to show that the nature of God is to divide things, and will ultimately divide the righteous from the wicked at the Final Judgement.

The Pre-Deluvian Diet

In the beginning, God created both humans and animals as vegetarians (Gen. 1:29-30). The division between vegetarian and carniverous animals, as we know them now, must have resulted as a consequence of the fall. It is possible that humans began to eat meat shortly after the fall, following the example of the carniverous animals, although there is no proof that this is so. Abel used to keep sheep (Gen 4:2) although there is no specific reason to believe that he killed them for food. It is more likely that he kept them for their wool and their skins, because people needed to cover themselves. Obviously if he took their skins he would have to kill them, and he might have also eaten the meat, although this is pure conjecture. It is unlikely that he just waited for an animal to die and then took the skin, because the subsequent law of Moses would have forbidden it. Anyone who touched the carcass of an animal that died of its own accord would be unclean until the evening (Lev. 11:39-40). Although the law of Moses was not in force at the time of Abel, some of those laws were observed long before they were actually given, as we shall see.

The first animal sacrifices were made, not by Abel, but by God himself to provide coverings for Adam and Eve. At first they sewed fig leaves together, but this was not an adequate covering, so God gave them coats of skins. A "skin", by definition, is something that covers an animal, so animals would have to die to provide the skins.

The story of Cain and Abel offering sacrifices to the Lord (Gen. 4:1-5) shows us that animals were acceptable sacrifices but vegetables were not, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). The principle was therefore established that animals were for making sacrifices and could also be killed for their skins, but vegetables were for eating.

Among the descendants of Cain (Gen. 4:17-24) there is no mention of anyone making sacrifices, and it is likely that sacrifices were out of favour because Cain's offering of vegetables had been rejected. However, when Adam and Eve had another son called Seth, who was considered to be a substitute for Abel who had been killed, Seth and his descendants began to "call upon the name of the Lord". This probably means they offered sacrifices, although according to a Midrashic interpretation it was an act of rebellion rather than worship (Genesis Rabbah 26:4).

Whatever it was, we know that sacrifices were offered by Noah when he came out of the ark, and they knew the difference between clean and unclean animals. The Lord commanded Noah to take the animals into the ark, seven of each clean animal and two of each unclean animal (Gen. 7:2-3). There are no instructions about what is clean and what is unclean. It is assumed that Noah already knew, but who taught him? One possibility is that God gave the instructions to Adam and the knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Another possibility is that there were other incidents like Cain and Abel, where some sacrifices were accepted and others were not. I prefer to go with the idea that God instructed Adam because it appears that Cain already knew he was doing something wrong when he offered vegetables, but he hoped it would be alright because it was the produce of his labour. The Lord said to him "If you do well, shall you not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7), which is rather like "You should have known better".

Having established that the pre-Deluvian world knew the difference between clean and unclean animals, what exactly did it mean to them? Since there was no general permission to eat animals, the terms "clean" and "unclean" were only relevant to sacrifices. The clean animals could be sacrificed and the unclean animals could not. After the flood, when permission was given to eat all kinds of animals, people began to apply the same distinction to their eating habits, as we shall see in the section on the Post-Deluvian Diet.

The Flood

Before the flood, there was a canopy of water vapour over the earth.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. (Gen. 1:6-8).

The Hebrew word "shamayim", translated "Heaven" can mean different things depending on the context as follows:

  • The sky or atmosphere, in which the birds fly. (Gen 1:20).
  • The place of the sun, moon and stars, known as outer space. (Gen. 1:14-17).
  • The place where God dwells. (Isaiah 66:1). The equivalent Greek word "ouranos" refers to this on one occasion as the "third Heaven". (2 Cor. 12:2).

The Heaven that was made on the second day of Creation is clearly the atmosphere. There was a layer of water vapour above the atmosphere which remained permanently in place, creating a warm, humid climate uniformly over the whole earth. There was also a mist which went up from the earth and watered the ground, causing vegetation to grow, and there was no rain. (Gen. 2:5-6). The absence of rain might have continued for the entire period of 1656 years from Creation to the Flood, as there is no mention of any rain during that period. People used to live long in those days, because the water canopy protected them from harmful radiation from space.

Before the fall, there was an abundance of vegetation that grew of its own accord in the Garden of Eden. After the fall, the ground had to be cultivated and the weeds pulled out (Gen. 3:17-19) but the water canopy was still in place and a sufficient variety of vegetables could be grown.

Then after intolerable acts of wickedness there was the Flood, caused by the collapse of the water canopy and disruption of the earth's sub-structure.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. (Gen. 7:11).

There is no way of knowing for certain why the water canopy collapsed, and why the earth's sub-structure was disrupted, but it was probably the result of a large meteorite impact.

After the Flood, the earth's climate had changed. There was no longer a uniformly humid climate. Instead there were extremes of heat and cold, humidity and drought. Water would evaporate from the sea into a dry atmosphere and then be deposited on the earth at random so that some places were good for agriculture and others remained dry. The descendants of Noah were expected to spread out over the earth (Gen. 9:1,7) and they would have to go to places where it was not possible to grow the variety of vegetables that are needed for a healthy diet. In cold climates it would not be possible to grow nuts and pulses as sources of protein. In hot, dry climates, it would not be possible to grow any kind of vegetables in sufficient quantity. Therefore, depending on their location, people needed meat to supplement their diet.

In modern times, there has been a return to vegetarianism, but this has only been made possible by international trade so that nuts, pulses, soya and other protein vegetables are transported around the world. If there was a major war so that trade was disrupted, many vegetarians would have to go back to eating meat. In Britain, for example, green vegetables, root vegetables and some varieties of beans can grow easily, but there are insufficient protein crops, and a vegetarian diet would be quite boring without imported foods.

The Post-Deluvian Diet

When Noah came out of the ark, he built an altar and made sacrifices of every species of clean animal (Gen. 8:20). He was then told that he could eat "every moving thing that lives", provided he takes out all the blood. This is immediately followed by a command not to kill each other. It appears that people were not used to eating meat as a matter of habit and needed to be told that they could not eat their fellow humans and become cannibals.

The general permission to eat meat applies to all Gentiles, so those who follow the Noachide laws can rightly claim that they can eat pork and all other things that are prohibited to the Jews, provided they take out the blood. However, what is permitted is not necessarily good, and not necessarily in accordance with the perfect will of God, and the descendants of Noah appear to have followed the custom of abstaining from unclean meat. From the time of Noah until the time of Moses when the law was given, there is not a single example of anyone eating unclean meat, but there are a number of examples of people eating clean meat, as follows:

  • Abraham gave a calf to his servant, and he killed it and offered it to his visitors, together with bread, cakes, butter and milk. (Gen. 18:5-8). This, of course, makes nonsense of the Rabbinic idea that you can't have milk and meat together.
  • Esau went out hunting venison and gave it to his father Isaac to eat. (Gen. 25:27-28).
  • Jacob killed two goats and gave some of the meat to his father Isaac as an act of deception, to impersonate his brother Esau. (Gen. 27:9-25).
  • Jacob claimed that he was not indebted to Laban because he had not eaten the rams of his flock. It was therefore customary to eat rams. (Gen. 31:38).
  • The Israelites ate the Passover lamb before they came out of Egypt. (Exodus 12).

These examples are all during a period of about 350 years from Abraham to Moses. Nothing is known about the eating habits of Abraham's ancestors during the period of 400 years since the Flood. We can only assume that Abraham learnt it from somewhere, and that some of his ancestors followed the custom of abstaining from unclean meat.

Abstinence from unclean meat is not the only custom that pre-dates its actual institution in law. It is very likely that male circumcision was also practised before the days of Abraham. When God commanded that Abraham and all his house should be circumcised, they were all circumcised on the very day that the command was given. (Gen. 17:10-27). This would not have been possible if circumcision was an entirely new idea. They must have known something about it already, and they might have even discussed it among themselves, in anticipation that a command might be given.

It should therefore not surprise us that abstinence from unclean meat is a very ancient idea that pre-dates the law of Moses.

Does It Matter?

No, it doesn't, at least not if you are a Gentile living among other Gentiles and you are unlikely to meet any Jews, although you might consider why the Patriarchs abstained from unclean meat when they knew they were allowed to eat it. Over a period of time, it seems they allowed their eating habits to conform to the law of sacrifice, so that if something could be sacrificed, it could also be eaten. The separation between the clean and the unclean is symbolic of the separation between the righteous and the wicked.

It is part of the nature of God to separate things. When God created the world, he separated light from darkness, day from night, the waters above from the waters below, and land from sea. God created animals "after their kind" so that the different kinds are separate from each other. Yes, separate, and not in a state of transition from one to another as the evolutionists who try to annihilate God would have us believe. A kind is a group of animals that can mate with each other but cannot mate with another kind. The word species is similar but not so precise. Evolution depends on the existence of transition animals that can mate with two kinds that would otherwise be unable to transfer their genes to each other. If transition animals ever existed they would still be in existence today because there is no reason why they should all die out. All we are offered is a few fossils that appear to have characteristics of two different kinds but there is no reason to believe that the animal, when it was alive, was able to transfer genes between the two kinds.

The idea that God separates things is not just a philosophical curiosity. It is an important principle that helps to maintain our faith when it is under attack. In the end, God will separate the righteous from the wicked, gathering the righteous into his kingdom and casting the wicked into the fire.

Every Jewish housewife acts out the Final Judgement whenever she goes shopping in a supermarket where both clean and unclean meat is on sale. She gets to the meat counter and finds a nice leg of lamb, so she puts it in her basket. Then she sees some pork and passes it by. Then she finds a nice piece of haddock and puts it in her basket. Then she sees prawns, shrimps and crabs and passes them by. If she is really observant she passes by the whole supermarket and goes to a kosher butcher and fishmonger.

There is nothing in the animals themselves that should make them good or bad, and they have no knowledge of morality, but God has divided them into clean and unclean to give us an object lesson which the Jews are obliged to observe, and the Gentiles can observe it if they wish but without compulsion.

The Gentiles do, however, have to abstain from unclean meat if they wish to share a meal with the Jews. When Jews and Gentiles get together, it is the Gentiles who have to make the compromises. There are also occasions when Gentiles would consider unclean meat to be inappropriate, regardless of whether or not any Jews are present. For example, some Gentiles like to celebrate Passover because it so clearly points to Yeshua the Messiah, and they try to make everything kosher just for that occasion. Then they might ask questions about having double standards. Why get rid of pork at Passover and then bring it back in as soon as the festival has finished? You might decide to get rid of pork altogether, then you are in the happy position of being able to invite Jewish visitors to your house without offending them over that particular issue.

Is It A Burden?

Not really. If you read Leviticus 11 and Deutronomy 14 you will find that the unclean animals are mostly things that you wouldn't eat anyway, and many of them are simply not available in the shops. The only contentious issue is pork, but is it really much of a burden just to get rid of pork? If you are giving ham sandwiches to your children to take to school, give them turkey instead. Cover it with the usual salad and pickle and they won't even notice the difference. If they must have their ham sandwiches, let them buy it at the school canteen. You can still keep it out of the house if you want to. If you like pork sausages, try frankfurter veggiebangers instead. Some of these look and taste like real sausage meat, but they are made of soya, spices and flavourings.

Prawns could also be contentious, but they are expensive and considered to be a delicacy, so most people can get rid of them with zero inconvenience.

The Apostle Paul used to talk about the "bondage" and "freedom" (Gal. 2:4) and his teaching is commonly misunderstood to mean that the law itself is a burden that needs to be thrown off. He cannot possibly have referred to the Biblical food laws in that way, because getting rid of pork and prawns is hardly a burden. The burden he referred to was the pride and arrogance that existed in some of the churches, where people tried to establish a pecking order of personal rank and importance, depending on how observant they were. He denounced them with the phrase "God accepts no man's person". (Gal. 2:6). Everyone had to learn the Torah at their own pace and nobody was better or worse than anybody else, but all are redeemed by Yeshua the Messiah.

Copyright 1998 Updated 1999.

Mike Gascoigne
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