An interesting point on Genesis 1, Leviticus 11, and Acts 10

In an essay translated in part by Sandro Magister, Jean-Pierre Sonnet points out the apparent contradiction between Genesis One’s “God saw that it was good” and Leviticus 11’s division of foods into “clean and unclean”. He writes that

The differences introduced in Leviticus 11 apply only to the people that has been “distinguished” [ie. the Jews].

This seems then to give us the explanation for Acts 10, Peter’s dream. At precisely the point that God wishes to show that the notion of the “people of God” is to be expanded to include all nations universally, he once again declares that all food is “clean”:

“What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”

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12 Responses to An interesting point on Genesis 1, Leviticus 11, and Acts 10

  1. Vicci says:

    Seeing that the pronouncements were made either side of the Fall, it’s hardly contradictory.

    Interesting that Peter’s dream is mentioned. Paul (the Outsider) had to pull Peter (the Inside Traditionalist) into line on this issue of the People of God, or, if you will..the Church.

    Similarly, some outside of ‘Peter’s Church’ still need to do likewise…

  2. GAB says:

    A potential spanner: What then do we do with the presence of the clean/unclean division in the account of Noah?

  3. Past Elder says:

    Judas, have you guys never heard of the Noahide Law, The Seven Laws of Moses, and its sign, the rainbow?

    These are the laws given in Genesis 9 to Noah, who was not a Jew. No-one was at the time, as Abraham had not come yet. Therefore, these laws, unlike the Mosaic Law, are binding on all mankind. Judaism has always held these as the basis for evaluating Gentiles and Gentile societies. When the controversy came up re the observance of Torah in the Church, the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts based its decision on them, saying nothing more is required of man than what has always been required of man, then states the seven laws though not in their precise rabbinic enumeration.

    As to forbidden foods, this is not kashrut at all. The sixth Noahide law forbids eating meat from a living animal, which is fully understood as just that as well as not consuming blood and, if one is recognised formally by a rabbinic court (Beth Din) as a Righteous of the Nations (Hassidey Umot HaOlam), carrion.

    The Ten Commandments, the laws of kashrut, and all the rest of the 613 commands of the Mosaic Law except these seven, are not binding on Gentiles at all. The Talmud, in fact, prohibits Gentiles who have not formally converted from observing Torah beyond the Noahide Laws which are binding on them.

    Which makes the solution of the Council of Jerusalem both fully understandable and correct, and immediately recognisable as a retention of the Hoahide Law for all men and which predates the Torah for Jews, but not the Torah.

    Which is not to say Torah is useless. Particularly in its Ten Commandments, it remains a mirror, a curb, and a guide, the three uses of the Law of Moses in Christianity.

  4. Past Elder says:

    That’s Seven Laws of Noah, sorry.

  5. Louise says:

    Interesting that Peter’s dream is mentioned. Paul (the Outsider) had to pull Peter (the Inside Traditionalist) into line on this issue of the People of God, or, if you will..the Church.

    Why? Because he recognised Peter’s authority.

  6. GAB says:


    That’s interesting about the rabbinic courts recognising and actually limiting Gentiles to the Noahide laws. Didn’t know that before.

    So what’s your take on where the clean/unclean division comes from, if not from the Torah for Jews? I would have read it simply as a contemporary category applied retrospectively, except for the fact that it actually affects the number of animals taken onto the Ark. Clearly the Jews understood clean/unclean as a category that predated them as a people.

  7. Past Elder says:

    I was a Righteous of the Nations for twenty some years.

    When we were looking into getting married, originally it was going to be done by an Orthodox Rabbi (pardon the redundancy, as if there is any other kind).

    However, it would not be a Jewish ceremony, since we were not Jews and therefore not bound by Torah.

    Nor were we encouraged to convert. As Rabbi used to say, moving his hands up and down like scales: Hmm, 7, 613, 7, 613, which should I choose?

    The reference being to the Seven Noahide Laws incumbent on all men and the full Torah, traditionally numbered at 613 commandments, incumbent only on Jews.

    At the Council of Jerusalem, certainly the Apostles were aware of clean/unclean and the whole Torah. The question was, does one first have to observe Torah to be delivered from observing it, and should these Gentile converts from pagan religions to Christianity have to observe Torah, and for that matter, should we now?

    They realised that Jew and Gentile alike are saved in the same way, through faith in Jesus Christ, and so all that is required is what has always been required, the Seven Noahide Laws incumbent on Jews and Gentiles alike.

    All kinds of religions have ideas of what pleases God that we can do, clean and unclean ritual ideas being common. THe difference is, in the Torah, God actually revealed what DOES please him, and called a people out from the nations to observe it. Whereupon they failed miserably, not because of who they were, but who all of us are, which the Law shows us, sinners incapable of earning salvation through our own God pleasing works even when Gid himself shows us precisely how to do it! And so he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes away our sins.

    The family dining table is an image of the altar of sacrifice, therefore in the Law God regulates what is set on either and both.

    The Law remains for us a mirror to show us our sinfulness and inability to follow his Law, a curb to our generalised sinfulness in human community, and a guide to God-pleasing works, which we can now do in the freedom of knowing our salvation does not derive from that effort.

    One of my favourite rabbinic maxims is, He who eats without giving thanks to God, it is as if he stole the food.

  8. Vicci says:

    At the risk of inciting even more…
    Love your work, PE !

    Noahide Law has to win you PotW*.
    (and the maxim rings true as well.)

    * Post of the Week

    proiding Delving into an idea… on Paddy’s Day

  9. Kiran says:

    (I am writing rather quickly in between classes. So, please excuse any gaps, or feel free to knock me down if you feel)

    I rather like Mary Douglas’ ideas about the Levitical laws. I don’t think it is that prawns or pigs or whatever were unclean (although that might have been an afterthought that worked to demonstrate uncleanness). A pig crosses rational categories. The fact of their uncleanness allows for the pigs to become a point of rallying for the Jews, in the same way that Fish on Fridays (or burial of the dead) is (or used to be) one for Catholics. All of this is not to deny their divine origin or their rationality (any more than pointing out that Gothic Cathedrals are cultural artefacts is to deny their rationality), only to explore why it is not contradictory with “God saw that it was good.” Peter’s dream is very significant, because it (and I think it is significant that it was Peter who had the dream: Our Lord did not abolish the division directly, but through his Vicar) because it effectively signals a new beginning. Peter and the first generation of Christians would have had an almost visceral revulsion from the eating of unclean foods.

    I don’t buy the whole “after the fall” hence unclean theory. It smacks a little of Manicheanism. After all, each of the animals feels the effect of the fall, but is still particularly and precisely created and intended by God.

  10. Past Elder says:

    Holy moly, here we go again.

    The uncleanness is ritual uncleanness, which is, a condition which renders it or one unfit to participate in ritual.

    Of course there is no contradiction between the ritual uncleanness specified in the Law and “God saw that it was good”. He said that when it was all good, before sin, which rendered not just Man but all Creation, well, fallen. They call it The Fall for a reason, and that’s it.

    The Noahide Law retained by the Council of Jerusalem for all Christians has no reference to ritual uncleanness at all, but to the prohibition of eating meat torn from an animal while it is still alive.

    Oh well. I remember avoiding ham at lunch while my Jewish bosses tossed back ham and cheese sandwiches with milk!

    That btw is unkosher twice over, as even if the meat were allowed, consuming meat and dairy products to-gether is forbidden in the Law. (Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk, for which Maimonides gave a particularly touching explication.)

  11. frdamian says:

    Past Elder,

    While I understand (I think) the relationship between the language of clean/unclean holy/common when used of food and ritual (esp. sacrifice), I’m not as sure how the word “abomination” (to’ebah) relates to ritual.

    This word, seemingly stronger than “unclean,” would seem to indicate that the animals are and abomination in the eyes of God (just as certain practices, such as sexual immorality, are to’ebah).

    I must admit to struggling myself with the concept of all being created good and some of that creation, not just practices of fallen people, being later considered abominable/abhorrent.


  12. Past Elder says:

    There is no universal agreement as to the “why” pf kashrut even among observant non-revisionist Jews.

    I know of no understanding that explains the prohibition of eating pigs on the basis of pigs being an abomination before God as pigs.

    The closest that comes to mind is an idea current among the Hasidim, that God created animals with certain signs as to whether they can or cannot release the “spark of holiness” when eaten by a Jew, the primary purpose of eating being to have strength to follow Torah.

    Traitionally, Jews consider some of Torah to have a reasoning we can get (mishpatim) and some have no humanly graspable reason (chukim). Aquinas’ friend Maimonides considered it OK to seek out reasons for Torah — he considered health reasons primary re kashrut — much as Aquinas approached theology itself: not as a basis for whether we do or not believe or do something, but for the edification of those who already believe and do.

    table: (no bull, that’s the word verification) the home’s altar upon which unclean may no more be laid than the altar in the Temple.

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