Religious people assume that clean and unclean are religious terms. When talking about unclean, they often say "ceremoniously unclean". This religious approach creeps into most English translations of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not a religious book. It is a spiritual book. This means that clean and unclean are spiritual terms, not religious terms.
The Hebrew word for unclean is "tame". It means foul or dirty. The word translated as clean.is "taher". It is much stronger than clean. It mean pure, clear or bright. It is used to describe pure gold.
We need to think about what makes things pure and other dirty. Everything God created is pure and good. Unfortunately, the spiritual power got hold of his creation (through a human mistake) and everything they touched they corrupted and make foul.
In the Old Testament, unclean (tame) means spiritually impure, ie contaminated by the spiritual power of evil. The opposite word "taher" means spiritually pure.
The laws dealing with clean and unclean describes things that Israel the children of Israel must avoid, because they are polluted by demonic powers. Their problem was that they did not have the gift of spiritual discernment, because the Holy Spirit has still not been given. Therefore, God had to give them blanket rules listing things to avoid because they were affected by evil.
The children of Israel had come of slavery in Egypt. Evil spirits are not interested in slaves, because they are infatuated with power. They always seek to control people in positions of power, so they can leverage their influence. This meant that the Israelites came out of Egypt, relatively spirit-free. Most of the evil spirits remained behind with their Egyptian masters.
Once they came into the land, they needed to remain spirit-free, by avoiding picking up the spirits that had controlled the Canaanites. Most of these were meant to flee the land with the Canaanites, but some remained, attached to animals and things in the land.
The laws about spiritually pure- and impure-things were guidelines to the Israelites about things to avoid in their new land, because they might be controlled by evil spirits. Not every incidence of these things would be infected, but it was better to play on the safe side, because they could not tell which ones would be dangerous.
Keeping away from impure things was essential, because they did not have the ability to deal with evil spirits, so they needed to remain as spirit-free as possible. If they came under control of a spirit, they had no way to get rid of it, so it was best to avoid every situation where they could pick up an evil spirit. They must avoid all situations where they might come into contact with evil spirits that they could not control or resist.
The Old Testament describes several types of things that should be avoided, because they are spiritually impure.
1. Sickness and Disease
Sickness and disease are mostly caused by the spiritual powers of evil. So a person who touched a sick person risked picking up the spirit that caused the sickness. Skin disease was often the first sign that someone was under attack by evil spirits. Therefore, avoiding someone with skin disease was a means of spiritual protection.
When a person dies, the evil spirits they carry look for somewhere to go. They will often move over to those who touch the dead body. Therefore, avoiding dead bodies was a way of avoiding evil spirits.
3. Impure Animals
The law specified a list of impure animals, but impure animals existed before the law was given. Noah took impure animals onto the ark (Gen 7:2,8). That raises and interesting question. Where did they come from? When God finished creating the animals, he said that they were good (Gen 1:24). The answer is that God had given authority on earth to Adam and Eve. They were tricked into submitting their authority to the spiritual power of evil, and then could not get it back.
So during the 1000 plus years between creation and the flood, the spiritual powers of evil had a free hand to work on earth. At first, there were not many people to attack, so they concentrated their power on corrupting and perverting some of the animals and plants. The evil angels do not have the ability to create new specifies, as God did. However, they could modify the genetic material of existing species to make new ones. The animals that they had modified are referred to as impure.
These impure animals were the work of evil angels, so there was a risk that they were still attached to them. The children of Israel were warned not to eat these animals, as if they did, they might take on the evil spirits that attached to them (Lev 11).
Many of the impure animals are destructive scavengers. They enjoy eating rotten bodies of sick and dead animals. This reflects the nature of the evil spirits that modified them. They also love destruction. They do not have the power to create anything, but they love to scavenge on God's creation.
Jesus changed the spiritual situation on earth. By his death on the cross, he destroyed the authority of spiritual powers of evil. He provided full spiritual protection for those choose to follow him. He gave the gift of spiritual discernment, so that his people can discern evil spirits wherever they are working. We no longer need to rely on blanket rules for spiritual protections. Instead, we can discern evil spirits wherever they are working, and if we put on the spiritual armour, they cannot touch us.
Jesus had perfect spiritual protection, so he did not have to be careful to avoid situations where he might pick up and evil spirit. They could not touch him, so he went boldly into the world confronting evil spirits and bringing them under the authority of God. For example, When Jesus saw a person with skin disease, he did not need to avoid him, because they could discern if there was an evil spirit at work, and if there was, he had the authority to force it to leave. Therefore, he reached out and touched the leper who asked him for healing (Mark 1:42-44).
We should follow Jesus example. We have spiritual protection in him, so we no longer need to hide from places and situations where we might come into contact with evil spirits. Instead, we should discern their work and confront them and drive them away.
Jesus explained that his ministry changed the situation with respect to eating impure animals.
Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them." After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come-sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." ( Mark 7:14-23).
When Israel went into the Promised Land, they were relative spirit-free. They needed protection from the evil spirits that filled the land and controlled the Canaanites. The Laws for avoiding impure animals and activities were designed to protect them from picking up evil spirits, but this problem was long gone.
The children of Israel had rebelled against God and ignored his law. They had chased after sin and lost their spiritual protection. The evil spirits that had filled up the land had taken hold of the children of Israel. The situation was so bad that all the evil spirits in the land had moved to the people who entered the land.
Jesus explained that evil was now at work within them. Avoiding impure foods provided no spiritual protection, because the evil spirits had move from the animals and high places into the hearts of the people. Refusing to eat an impure food was pointless, if your heart was full of evil, because you have already given many evil spirits a home there.
The world had changed. Impure animals were no longer a spiritual threat. The real problem was that hundreds of years of rejecting God and pursuing evil, had left the Jewish people under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. The spiritual powers of evil knew that something would happen in Jerusalem, so they had concentrated their forces there. The people of evil were controlled and dominated by the forces of evil. This influenced their behaviour. As Jesus said, these evils came out from inside their hearts and defiled their behaviour.
By dying on the cross, Jesus intended to set them free from the spiritual powers of evil that corrupted and crushed their lives. However, the powers of evil stirred them up to reject Jesus and call out for him to be crucified. Most Jews continued to reject Jesus, and their city and country was destroyed in AD 70.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matt 23:25-26).
In Jesus time, the spiritual threat came from the hearts of the people, because they had allowed the spiritual powers of evil to make their home there. Even the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were corrupted. External evil was no longer a threat, so the laws about impure food were no longer relevant.