Question: Why does the OT prohibit eating pork, and how does that apply to Christians today?
The commandment prohibiting the eating of pork is found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy:
Lev. 11:7-8 And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you (Dt. 14:6-19).
This prohibition became a matter of ceremonial law for the Hebrew people under Moses’ leadership. It was part of a much broader classification of “clean” and “unclean” animals, as far as their potential food value was concerned.
Lev. 11:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud.
The passage goes on to give several examples of unclean anaimals (the camel, badger, rabbit and pig), and then gives similar instructions regarding clean and unclean fish and birds. God gave these dietary laws to Moses for the purpose of protecting the emerging Jewish nation from serious diseases often associated with eating the meat of animals from the “unclean” list.
Rabbits, for example, were a prime source of the tularemia disease, (rabbit fever) which spread like a plague in ancient Canaan in the 18th and 11th centuries B.C. Trichinosis (round worm) is a common malady associated with poorly cooked pork.
This division of meat products into clean and unclean categories also provided a valuable object lesson on the spiritual plane. Meats from the clean category were healthy, just as a healthy person was considered clean and an unhealthy person was considered unclean (eg. Lev. 13:8). Even so, cleanliness became a symbol of spiritual health, while sin and wickedness were identified with the spiritually unclean:
Ps. 51:7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Prov. 20:9 Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
This idea eventually extended to seeing the Gentiles as unclean:
Ezra 6:21 So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.
The ceremonial laws were binding upon the nation of Israel. So when the apostle Peter had his vision on the rooftop where God commanded him to eat ceremonially unclean food, Peter’s response was understandable:
Acts 10:14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
But the Lord used this to teach Peter, and all Christians for all time, that neither pigs, rabbits or Gentiles were to be considered ceremonially unclean anymore:
Acts 10:15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.
Christians are free to eat pork and, more importantly, free to eat and associate with the unsaved—as Jesus did.