Troublesome Topic: The Food Laws Taught What Is Normal in God’s Kingdom

I learned from Gordon Wenham that there is a connection between the Old Testament teaching on “clean” and “unclean” and the ideas of “normal” and “abnormal” respectively. This was confirmed by Rich Oka.

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However, the connection is not what I expected it to be.

When I looked up the Hebrew words for “clean’ and “unclean” I found that they are two very different words, unlike in English where the negative is the same root word as the positive form, with the prefix “un” tacked on the front. But neither of the two Hebrew words has any direct connection in its meaning or etymology to the ideas of “normal” or “abnormal.” So where does the connection come from?

First of all, there is a God-ordained standard that determines what should be “isolated.” His standard is based on His character. Therefore all the laws about clean and unclean things, including the food laws, pointed to God’s holy character. The idea of a standard is closely related to the idea of “normal.” The standard is the norm by which all things are judged.

Also allow me to remind you that, in the Jewish mind, everything is either clean and holy, clean and common, or unclean and common. God created everything with an initial condition of clean and common.  Therefore, clean is “normal.” This is a clear and logical outgrowth of the Jewish view of the universe. Their view was based on the Law of God. You don’t want to be “unclean (isolated),” that’s not good. You don’t want to stay there long, rather you want to return to normal (clean) as soon as possible.

You may be asking how capable the Hebrews were of getting to the idea of “normal or abnormal,” or how probable it was for them to understand this as a teaching tool rather than just a bunch of troublesome laws. If we had been in their place, instead of learning lessons about holiness, we would have been trying to sue God for culinary harassment. But I think they got it. They understood the important, yet common, status of being “clean.” They knew that the norm for God’s original creation was common and clean, so “normal” and “clean” go together.

The next lesson in all three series on Covenants is: General Lessons from the Categorizing of Animals by Realm



Gordon Wenham., The Book of Leviticus, (Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979), pp. 166-171, indicates that other scholars see these meanings associated with the words clean and unclean as well. It is not just his idea. Rich Oka, a Messianic Jew, also communicates the same idea, although as a secondary purpose for the food laws, His blog site is: