Birds of the Bible – Clean vs. Unclean

Woodstorks on top of tree at Circle B 7-22-11 by Lee

Woodstorks on top of tree at Circle B by Lee

In our study on the Birds of the Bible, it has been mentioned whether a bird is “clean” or “unclean.” As I have prepared the blogs, I have been considering why a bird is on the clean or unclean list. I had been saving this blog for later, but due to unexpected travel, I’ll do it now.

In Genesis 9:3 it is stated that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.” So, of course, the birds would be included in this as well. In Deuteronomy 14:11-20, a list of birds is given to signify which birds are unclean and not eaten; basically, all the rest can be consumed. But why are some birds unclean: Looking at the list, the eagle, ossifrage, kite, glede, vulture, and the hawk are known to eat dead animals (carrion). It would not be very healthy to eat them. The other birds on the list are all meat eaters, and maybe that has something to do with their being placed on the unclean list. Are the birds bad because of what they eat? No. Each one was created exactly for the purpose God intended. The carrion eaters help keep the land clean. Another passage mentions the list of unclean birds in Lev 11:13-20.

Some of the other birds on the list are a mystery to me. For instance the Cormorant, Swan, Pelican, Heron, and the Stork are birds I watch here in Florida, and they all seem to be fish eaters. One article mentions that the Heron used to be eaten, but they were fishy tasting and they stopped eating them. Why is it that no matter how many things we are given with only a few put off limits, that someone always has to try the few. Does that not sound like what happened in the garden of Eden when Eve just had to try the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When God puts something off-limits or says it is “unclean,” there is a good reason for it. Most times it is for our benefit because God loves us and doesn’t want us harmed. The “clean” birds mostly have a diet of grain, fruits, and vegetation. Could that be why they are okay to eat? With all the good birds available like chicken, turkey, quail, duck, etc., I’d much rather sit down to a Thanksgiving meal of turkey than vulture.
The birds used for the sacrifices were all clean birds.

Then the #1 reason to eat or not eat a bird according to the list is: AND GOD SAID

31 thoughts on “Birds of the Bible – Clean vs. Unclean

  1. What a wonderful site!! I teach a small youth sunday school class and we are going to be studying birds in the bible. I was doing some research and found your site.
    I know God led me here I found some wonderful material for the class thank You

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    • Cheryl,
      You’re welcome to use any material. Lord bless you with your Sunday School class. Check back soon. I am getting ready to post some bird study references.
      Lee

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    • The types that creep with four legs and the bat are in the next category. The verses are all together, but does not indicate they are birds

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  2. If the eagle is portrayed in the bible as an unclean bird, why does God compare Himself to an eagle rather to a bird which has been portrayed as clean? Deut 32:11

    In Acts 10 Peter did not want to eat any animal which the bible considered unclean yet was told to eat it because God cleansed it.

    “And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. ”

    The OT says do not eat anything unclean because God said so. The NT says you can eat it because God cleansed it.

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    • You have to look at Acts chapter 10 in context. Peter was a Jew and at that time the message was only going out to the Jewish people. If you keep reading you will see what the vision was in reference to. It was a vision to show that the Gentiles were now going to receive the good news which is the gospel. Read the whole chapter and you will see. By the way Peter did not eat anything in that vision and he was not punished for disobeying. The vision had nothing to do with food. Hope that helped :)

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  3. Thanks God this good site because at times as a pastor people asked these things. I’m Pastor Sarwar from Pakistan we need your prayers and also tell that we have face a lot of financial problems. we are running Sunday schools, Bible study groups and Bible schools, house prayer meetings and house churches. Please I am not saying “help us”, but tell those in ur fellowship there is a ministering in Pakistan. God bless you.

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    • Thanks, Pastor Sarwar. We are rejoicing to hear about all your labor in Pakistan and will be praying for you and those there. Praise the Lord that we can help with some of your answers.

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  4. I believe the reason some birds are unclean has to do a lot with what they eat. The unclean birds eat carrion or small rodents etc. The clean animals eat mainly grains and insects.

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  5. Your statement is wrong. If you continue in Duet. Only birds with four legs with two off the ground and hop like chickens and and turkeys may be consuonsmed all others are abominations. In love I’m letting you know

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    • Not sure where you are implying, but birds don’t have 4 legs.
      Deuteronomy 14:11-20 KJV
      (11) Of all clean birds ye shall eat.
      (12) But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
      (13) And the glede, and the kite, and the vulture after his kind,
      (14) And every raven after his kind,
      (15) And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,
      (16) The little owl, and the great owl, and the swan,
      (17) And the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the cormorant,
      (18) And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat (not a bird).
      (19) (Nor these) And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten.
      (20) But of all clean fowls ye may eat.

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  6. How come the swan is on the list as unclean yet people say the duck and goose are a clean bird? They all pretty much eat vegetation as the major portion of their diet. Some sites put all web-footed birds as “unclean”. I have asked them why and as yet have not received a response. Some say the word “swan” in the Bible is a mistranslation but how do I know this for sure? This is something that has puzzled me for years.

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    • Michael, The swan shows up in about half of the translations, water hen in some and an owl in others. I do not know any more than the translators, but this I do know. As I quoted in the article –

      “Then the #1 reason to eat or not eat a bird according to the list is: “AND GOD SAID”

      If the Lord had put turkey on that list, then they were not to eat it. Yes, most of the birds were carrion eaters or not the most sanitary birds. The Lord wanted Israel to be separate from the other nations and gave them a list of do’s and don’t. It was up to them to obey, just as it is up to us obey His commands today.

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  7. Acts 10:13-15 (KJV)
    13And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14[But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.] 15[And the voice ] spake[ unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, ] that[ call not thou common.)

    Jesus the way the truth and the life. Stop wasting ur time in the old testament!

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    • Garrett, imagine after all those years walking and living with the Messiah, Peter NEVER got the impression that it was okay to start eating unclean animals. Even in this vision he acknowledges that “the Lord” is talking to him, and he adamantly declares “No Lord!” in response to being told to eat, then it says he pondered what this would mean (seems like he was pretty sure it didn’t mean to start eating mouse and pork-chops). He then goes on to explain this vision TWICE, and both times he clarifies that this was about people (the gentiles), and he says nothing about food. Please go back and read Acts 10 & 11 again.

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  8. Lee, my search on the topic of clean and unclean birds led met to a wikipedia article and I discovered that when you look at the Hebrew words (found in the Masoretic text) for the names of various unclean birds, they sound like descriptions, ex. “bone breaker”, “plunger”, “one who darts”, and even “vomiting”. So perhaps the reason we don’t have “clear rules” listed (something I’ve wondered for a long time) is because the traits and characteristics were there all along, but not knowing Hebrew, we had no idea. Anyway, check it out!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_animals#Birds

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  9. Kepha/Peter was never a Jew; the letter J is only ~500 yrs old; the word Jew only 200 years old (KJV was translated into modern English for our benefit; but not the original language–removing YHUH’s Name and titles too). Kepha/Peter was a Yshra’alite.

    If you read the whole story of Kepha/Peter’s vision in Acts YHUH is referring to human beings; in particular other nations who are of the faith of Yshra’al (Yshra’al means “Man who struggled with Al/G-d”); the faith in the Messiah Yahusha is the faith of Abraham/Yshra’al. From Genesis/Brshyt to Revelation/Chizun YHUH and YHUH’s commands don’t change. People do.

    I personally let scripture interpret itself; not man; and encourage you to do the same.

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