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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 11

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 2

2.These are the beasts which ye shall eat. The holy fathers, before the birth of Moses, knew what animals were unclean; of which fact Noah afforded a manifest proof, when, by God’s command, he took into the ark seven pairs of the clean animals, and offered of them his sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Certainly he could not have obeyed the command of God, unless he had either been taught by secret inspiration, or unless this tradition had descended to him from his forefathers. But there is nothing absurd in the notion that God, desiring to confirm the traditional distinction, appointed certain marks of difference whereby its observation might be more scrupulously attended to, and lest any transgression of it should creep in through ignorance. For God also consecrated the Sabbath to Himself from the creation of the world, and desired it to be observed by the people before the promulgation of the Law; and yet afterwards the peculiar holiness of the day was more distinctly expressed. Besides, the clean animals are here distinguished from the unclean, by name as well as by signs. The proper names, which are recited, are of little service to us now-a-days; because many species which are common in the East, are unknown elsewhere; and it was therefore easy for Jews (35) who were born and had lived in distant countries, to fall into error about them; whilst, on the other hand, the more bold they are in their conjectures, the less are they to be trusted. As to many of them, I acknowledge that there is no ambiguity, especially as to the tame animals, or those that are to be found everywhere, or that have plain descriptions of them given in the Bible. A positive knowledge then is only to be sought from the signs which are here laid down; viz., that the animals which have cloven hoofs, and which ruminate, are clean: and that those are unclean in which either of these two things is wanting; that either sea or river fish, which have fins and scales, are clean. No such distinction as to birds is given, but only the unclean are named, which it was sinful to eat. Lastly, mention is made of reptiles. As to details, if there be anything worthy of observation, the place to consider them will be further on; let us now remember, in general, what I have before touched upon, viz., that whilst the Gentiles might eat every kind of food, many were forbidden to the Jews, in order that they might learn in their very food to cultivate purity; and this was the object of their separation from ordinary customs. Hence it arose that they use the word חלל, chalal (36) both for “to make common,” and to “contaminate;” and the word, חול,chol, signifies “polluted, ” because it is opposed to anything holy or set apart. It is true, indeed, that the Gentiles, by natural instinct, have regarded with the utmost horror the eating of some of the animals which are here forbidden; still, God would surround His people with barriers, which must separate them from their neighbors.

Those who imagine that God here had regard to their health, as if discharging the office of a Physician, pervert by their vain speculation the whole force and utility of this law. I allow, indeed, that the meats which God permits to be eaten are wholesome, and best adapted for food; but, both from the preface, — in which God admonished them that holiness was to be cultivated by the people whom He had chosen, — as also from the (subsequent) abolition of this law, it is sufficiently plain that this distinction of meats was a part of that elementary instruction (37) under which God kept His ancient people.

"Let no man therefore judge you (says Paul) in meat or in drink, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16.)

By which expressions he means, that what was spiritual had been shadowed forth in the external rite of abstaining from meats. To the same effect he elsewhere says, (Romans 14:14) that he knows and is persuaded, (38) that in the Lord Jesus Christ there is nothing unclean; viz., because Christ by his death has redeemed His people from slavish subjection. Hence it follows, that the prohibition of meats must be counted among the ceremonies, which were exercises in the worship of God. But here a question arises, how it is reconcilable that, even from the days of Noah, certain animals were unclean, and yet that all without exception were allowed to be eaten? I cannot agree with some in thinking that the distinction originally made by God grew obsolete by degrees; for God, in excepting the eating of blood only, makes a grant of whatsoever moves upon the earth as the food of the posterity of Noah. I therefore restrict to the sacrifices that uncleanness, with the knowledge of which the hearts of the Patriarchs were then inspired, nor do I doubt but that it was as lawful for Abraham, as well as for them, to eat swine’s flesh as the flesh of oxen. Afterwards, when God imposed the yoke of the Law to repress the licentiousness of the people, He somewhat curtailed this general permission, not because He repented of His liberality; but because it was useful to compel in this way to obedience these almost rude and uncivilized people. But, since before the Law the condition of the saints was the same as our own, it must be remembered, as I said before, that, agreeably to the dictates of nature, they spontaneously avoided certain foods, just as at present no one will hunt wolves or lions for food, nor desire to eat serpents and other venomous animals. But the object of this ordinance was different, viz., lest they who were God’s sacred and peculiar people, should freely and promiscuously communicate with the Gentiles.

(35)Rabins Juifs.” — Fr.

(36) חול is rendered by A.V. unholy, Leviticus 10:10; common, 1 Samuel 21:5; profane, Ezekiel 22:26, and Ezekiel 42:20, in which last instance common, or public, would have been more suitable. — W

(37)Pedagogiae.” — Lat. “La doctrine puerile.” — Fr.

(38) Vide C. in loco, (Calvin Society Translation,) and Owen’s note. C. evidently does not understand the words in the sense of our translation; “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus,” — but rather as I have given them in the text, supposing the Apostle to speak of Christ, not as the author of his persuasion, but as the remover of the uncleanness referred to. The Fr. is “il sait, et est persuade qu’il n’y a rien impur a ceux, qui croyent en Jesus Christ; “he knows and is persuaded that there is nothing unclean to them that believe in Jesus Christ.

Verse 3

3Whatsoever parteth the hoof. Whilst I fear that but little confidence can be placed in the allegories, in which many have taken delight; so I do not find any fault with, nor even refuse that which has been handed down from the ancients, (39) viz., that by the cleaving of the hoof is signified prudence in distinguishing the mysteries of Scripture, and by the chewing of the cud serious meditation on its heavenly doctrines; although I cannot approve of the subtlety (40) which they add, viz., that those “rightly divide the word” who have known how to elicit mystical senses from its letter; because hence it has come to pass that they have allowed themselves in all sorts of imaginations. I therefore embrace the more simple notion, that they who only have a taste for the carnal sense, do not divide the hoof; for, as Paul says, only “he that is spiritual discerneth all things.” (1 Corinthians 2:15 , margin.) The chewing of the cud ought to follow, duly to prepare and digest the spiritual food; for many gulp down Scripture without profit, because they neither sincerely desire to profit by it, nor seek to refresh their souls by it, as their nourishment; but satisfied with the empty delights of knowledge, make no efforts to conform their life to it. In the first clause, then, brutal stupidity is condemned; in the other, the ambition and levity of curious men. (41) God, indeed, set before Peter, in the vision, unclean animals as images and figures of the Gentiles, (Acts 10:12;) and therefore it is lawful, by probable analogy, to transfer to men what is said about the animals. But why God should have appointed the cloven hoof and rumination as signs, is no more clear to me than why He should have forbidden their eating swine’s flesh; unless, perchance, because the solid hoof is a sign of wildness; whilst the animals which do not ruminate feed for the most part on filth and excrement. We know that on this point there was much contention immediately after the promulgation of the Gospel, because some of the Jews, in their excessive devotion to the Law, and considering that the distinction of meats was not to be reckoned among the, ceremonial enactments, desired that the new Church should be bound by the same trammels as had been imposed upon the ancient people. At length, by the decree of the Apostles, permission was given to the Gentiles to eat all kinds of meat, except only blood and things strangled, and that only for a time, for the sake of avoiding offense, since the Jews would not otherwise have been propitiated. Now, after what God Himself had ordained respecting the distinction of meats had been abrogated, it was an act of diabolical audacity to oblige men’s consciences by human laws, and to prevent them from enjoying the liberty obtained by Christ.

Another question remains, how God should pronounce anything which He has created to be unclean; for, if an animal be rejected on account of its uncleanness, part of the reproach redounds to the Author Himself. Besides, this rejection seems also to be opposed to the first declaration of God, when, considering all things which He had made, He acknowledged them to be “very good.” The solution is, that no animal was ever unclean in itself; but that this merely refers to its use. Thus in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there was naturally neither fault nor harm, so that it should infect man by its pollution, yet he contracted death from it on account of God’s prohibition. Wherefore, also, in this passage, God does not condemn His work in the animals, but, as to their being eaten, He would have them accounted unclean, that the people may abominate that which is forbidden them. In a word, it is only transgression which defiles: for the animals have never changed their nature; but it was in God’s power to determine what He would have to be lawful or unlawful. Thus another objection is removed. Christ declares that

"not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man ”
(Matthew 10:11.)

If any one should thence infer that harmless animals are improperly condemned, we must reply that they are not accounted unclean in themselves, but that the prohibition had a different object. For that doctrine was always true, that

"the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,”
(Romans 14:17;)

but, when God forbade the Israelites to eat this or that kind of food, they were admonished by this ceremonial precept how abominable is the inward corruption of the heart. But by such elementary teaching they were prepared and led onwards to spiritual doctrine, that they might know that nothing defiles a man except what comes out of his mouth. Now-a-days the condition of believers is different. for liberty is obtained for them, since Christ, having abrogated the Law, has nailed

"the handwriting of ordinances to his cross.”
(Colossians 2:14.)

(39) Fr. “les Docteurs anciens .” “ Ungulam dividunt, qui secundum duo testamenta firmo se gradu innocentiae et justiciae statuunt. Judaei ruminant verba legis: sed ungulam non findunt, quia duo testamenta non recipiunt; nec in Patrem et Filium credunt: fidei gressum dividunt: heretici ungulam findunt, in Patrem et Filium credentes; seal doctrinam veritatis non ruminant.” — Glossa ordinaria, in loco

(40)Toutefois ils gastent tout a la fin par une subtilite frivole, etc;” nevertheless they spoil all by a frivolous subtlety. — Fr.

(41) Addition in Fr. “qui ne prenent nulle refection de la doctrine de salut :” who receive no refreshment from the doctrine of salvation.

Verse 4

4Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of. He more clearly expresses what he had previously glanced at, viz., that an animal, although it may ruminate, shall not be clean unless it also cleaves the hoof; and, on the other hand, that the cloven hoof will not be sufficient unless combined with rumination. In these words Moses taught that partial and imperfect purity must not be obtruded upon God. If any choose to think that rumination is the symbol of internal purity, and the cloven hoof of external, his opinion will be a probable one. Since this distinction has occurred to my mind, although I have no taste for subtle speculations, I have thought it well to mention it, yet leaving it free for any one to accept it or not. Meanwhile we must hold it as certain, as I have lately said, that God demands perfect cleanliness, undefiled by any admixture. But the prohibition was most onerous to the Jews with respect to swine’s flesh, because it is very well adapted for food, not only as being a pleasant accompaniment of other meats, but because the working-classes are fed upon it at a smaller cost. In this point, therefore, the religion of the Jewish people was especially proved. For, when the soldiers of Antiochus desired to force the people to an entire renunciation of the Law, they only urged them to eat swine’s flesh (42) And hence the famous witticism of Augustus, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son;” (43) because, whilst he abstained from pork, he was the murderer of his children. But, in order that the Jews might observe this prohibition more strictly, the very touch was also forbidden them; so that it was not only wicked to taste swine’s flesh, but even to touch it with their hands after the animal was killed. The same rule did not apply to beef or mutton; for it is necessary to handle the meat which is appointed for our food.

(42) There is allusion to this in 1 Maccabees 1:47. “Howbeit, many in Israel were fully resolved and confirmed in themselves, not to eat any unclean thing; wherefore they chose rather to die, that they might not be defiled with meats, and that they might not profane the holy covenant, so then they died."

(43) Macrob., Saturnalia, 2 4.

Verse 9

9These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters. Here, also, some who know little of religion, plausibly contend that God is acting the physician’s part, and distinguishing wholesome from unwholesome food. But although their opinion is sufficiently refuted by medical men themselves, yet, even if I should admit what they desire, they reason badly. For the purpose of God was other than to provide for the people’s health; and, because He had to do with a rude people, He chose common marks, being admonished by which they might gradually ascend to higher things. It would be useless to follow the allegories which Isychius has invented (44) and I would willingly bury in oblivion these triflings, except that many have such a leaning to subtleties, that sober views would scarcely please them, until the folly of these allegories shall have been convicted. I will say nothing of the scales and fins. If at first sight any should approve of what he says as to the names of the fish being omitted, because the Church seeks not. a name upon earth, and that the Church is signified by the fish, — let them consider whether it is consistent that the Church should only exist in the water; and, again, that the birds, which are nearer heaven, should be excluded from this honor; thirdly, that the clean animals should be rejected, as if they did not belong to the Church; lastly, that those who by their contagion pollute the Church should be counted amongst the elect, whose names are written in heaven; for certainly many of the fish are unclean. Those who will not acquiesce in these perspicuous reasons, I will allow to wander in their labyrinth. This simple view will satisfy the moderate and teachable, that the fish are not named, because the greater part of them were unknown to the Jews, whose country did not produce many of the river-fish, since it scarcely had any river besides the Jordan, whilst the sea-fish only visited the neighboring shores.

(44) “Hesychius, observing that no proper names are given here or elsewhere in Scripture, as I have said, to fishes, interprets it of the Gentiles gathered into the Church, whose names she does not desire to be written on earth, but in another generation, and in heaven; that these are born again in the waters of baptism; that they have fins, in the meditation of the law, which corresponds with the sublime and heavenly life; and scales, which may be easily removed, as also they may easily lay aside their ignorance, even as scales are said to have fallen from the eyes of Paul when he was converted. He declares that the adulterer, the covetous man, the drunkard, and the calumniator, have not fins, since their life is sordid and unclean; and says that the worshipper of idols cannot be counted among those who have scales, since he seems to be possessed of a hard and shellfish-like, and incurable ignorance of divine things.”Lorinus, in loco.

Verse 13

13.And these are they which ye shall have in abomination. The species of birds and reptiles which are forbidden, are such as common feeling almost naturally repudiates. And assuredly God dealt with great indulgence towards His people, so as not to weigh them down with too heavy burdens. But because man’s greediness sometimes delights in monstrous food, He desired even in minor matters to put the rein upon them, lest they should rush with heathen nations into intemperance, whereby they would be polluted. For there was danger lest, by devouring filthy animals, they should harden themselves to join in various other corruptions. Another law is added, that they should not only abstain from eating these unclean animals, but, if any such should be killed, that they should not defile themselves by touching its carcase; nay, that if any vessels should have come in contact with them, those made of earth should be broken, and others should be washed. It seems to be a trifling matter to enjoin, that if a mouse should have been drowned in a vessel of water, the vessel itself should be unclean; and the strictness appears excessive, that the Jews should be commanded, (45) if any such animal had fallen into a vessel of wine, and had died there, not only to pour away the wine, but also to destroy the vessel; and if it had been smothered in an oven, or had lain in the hearth, to break down both of them; as if spiritual infection reached even to things without life. But we must always consider the intention of God: from whence we shall learn that He was not so severe and exacting in unimportant things as to tie His people to the observation of (superfluous) (46) matters; but that these were acts of discipline whereby He might accustom them to study purity, which is so generally neglected and omitted among men. Now-a-days, also, we are commanded by the mouth of Paul,

"whether we eat, or drink, or whatsoever we do, to do all to the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31;)

but in this respect we differ from the ancient people, that, being delivered from childish rudiments, we are directed only to what is spiritual, viz., that meat and drink are supplied to us by God, that we may serve in purity the Author of our life. But it was necessary to stimulate the Jews in various ways that they might be more attentive to this object; whilst God commanded them to keep their houses free from all uncleanness, and to be diligent in watching over the purity of their water, and all their vessels; that He might constantly set before their eyes how diligently He would have them to labor after true cleanliness; as follows in the end of the chapter.

(45)De contraindre les poures gens; to constrain the poor people. — Fr.

(46) This word is added from the Fr.

Verse 43

43Ye shall not make yourselves abominable. He does not invite them to take care of their health, nor warn them of the danger of contracting’ diseases, but bids them beware of defiling themselves. And a clearer explanation is subjoined, “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves; for I am holy.” Lest they should imagine that the main part of religion was contained in external ceremonies, they were to consider the nature of God; for, inasmuch as He is a Spirit, He would be worshipped only spiritually. Thus holiness is only connected instrumentally with the distinction of meats; since their abstinence had no other object than that they should consecrate themselves to God. Therefore the superstition of the Jews was inexcusable, when they satisfied themselves with trifling observances; (47) as if one should learn the letters of the alphabet without applying them to their use, and reading what is written. From their example we perceive how eagerly men lay hold of everything they can to sustain them in their hypocrisy, for they not only wrested to their earthly notions the things which were profitable in the pursuit of true integrity of heart; but, not content, with this, they heaped to themselves many supererogatory rites; (48) hence the water of expiation, or lustration always in use, even when they were unconscious of any pollution: hence their anxious labor in washing cups and platters, that it might readily appear how constantly the perversity of man abuses what God has appointed for the best of reasons.

(47)Quand ils se sont arrestez a l’observation une et simple de choses frivoles; comme si quelqu’un apprenoit 1’ a, b, c, et qu’il ne luy chalust puis apres d’accoupler les lettres pour lire;” when they stopped at the bare and simple observation of frivolous things; as if one should learn the a, b, c, and cared not afterwards to join the letters together so as to read.—Fr.

(48) Addition in Fr., “ Comme si la religion eust este enclose en choses de neant;” as if religion had been comprised in things of nought.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/leviticus-11.html. 1840-57.
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