It is not just pork that the Old Testament forbids eating. The book of Leviticus contains a list of so-called unclean animals that should not be used as food. Besides pigs, it includes cleft-footed animals without a deep cut on their hoofs; animals that do not chew the cud; all quadrupeds like hares, or camels; animals without feathers and scales; reptiles; numerous breeds of birds (for example ostriches and herons) etc. The same source, after listing clean and unclean animals, also states the purpose of such restrictions, “For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45). So, the goal is holiness.
But is it enough to follow the Old Testament “diet” to become a saint? In a sense, yes, but only if we keep in mind the meaning of the word “holiness” in the Old Testament, in relation to the circumstances of that era. The Hebrew word “kadosh”, which is most commonly translated as “holy,” is based on a verb that literally means “to separate for a special purpose”. In view of this, holiness in the Old Testament sense meant separation, otherness, or “unmixedness”. In its highest form, holiness is inherent in God as being absolutely different in relation to the created world, whereas a saint is someone who is in a certain relationship with God, partaking in Him and serving to fulfill God’s plan, while being separated from the rest of the world. Israel was such a holy nation, separated from others and consecrated to God. This does not mean that all of its people were perfect and blameless. And yet, Israel had a special mission on earth, i. e. to produce within itself the One who would become the Mother of the Son of God.
All the Old Testament restrictions and prohibitions should be viewed in light of this. God brought Israel out of Egypt to be a “holy” people, that is, a people different from others. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Bible’s instructions regarding clean and unclean animals appear shortly after the Jews left the Egyptian lands. The religion of Ancient Egypt (and not only Egypt) is highly zoomorphic. Many of the animals receiving the “unclean” status were sacred and served as personifications or symbols of deities. Having lived in Egypt for more than two centuries, Jews adopted certain pagan ideas about sacred things. When the people thought that Moses would not return from the mountain and asked Aaron to make an image of God, he made a calf, which everyone immediately began to worship, exclaiming: Behold your God, Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (Ex 32: 4). After that, Israel continued to recall the life before the exodus with nostalgia more than once. So, the reasons behind this detailed classification of animals were both to show their auxiliary significance, and to protect people from the temptation of falling into idolatry. The ban on eating unclean animals also served as an obstacle to sharing meals with pagans.
The fact that the division of animals into clean and unclean was of an auxiliary and disciplinary nature is confirmed by the abolition of the Old Testament’s gastronomic rules in the New Testament. The First Apostolic Council decreed that Jewish Christians were free to observe the restrictions of the Mosaic Law, if they wished, while Gentile Christians were exempted from doing so. The general position of the Council participants was expressed by the head of the Jerusalem community, James the Apostle. “Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood (Acts 15:19-20). With the advent of the Savior, it was no longer necessary to isolate the people of God. In fact, the opposite remains true. The good news of salvation needs to be made known to all people, regardless of their nationality. In this new context, the food prohibitions of the Old Testament become irrelevant and disappear.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds