Did the Apostle Paul say that all animals can be used for food?
Question: I just read 1 Timothy 4:4, where the Apostle Paul says that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” Doesn’t this mean that every animal is good for food?
Answer: Many use this verse to try to suggest that Paul is throwing out God’s laws about clean and unclean animals—even though Paul said elsewhere that God’s laws are holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12).
Whenever someone uses the Apostle Paul’s statements as an excuse to ignore God’s laws, we should take warning. The Apostle Peter was inspired to write that “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16).
Peter encourages us to be careful, lest we fall into the trap of those who twist the Apostle Paul’s comments to say something that they were not meant to say. And it is clear to all that there are some creatures that are not good for food—such as the comb star, a starfish whose flesh contains a deadly neurotoxin for which there is no known antidote. So, did Paul actually tell Timothy that God now allows us to eat every creature He created?
Examining context is key to understanding the Bible. Let’s do so by reading 1 Timothy 4:1–3: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
Notice that Paul isn’t discussing God’s law, but rather “doctrines of demons”—mentioning man-made regulations forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods God created for humans to eat. He addressed the same problem in his letter to the Colossians, calling such man-made restrictions the “commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22) and “self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body” (v. 23).
Are there false versions of Christianity that forbid some to marry and require believers to abstain—for instance—from eating meat on a particular day of the week, along with other unbiblical church traditions? There are! Paul is addressing such false beliefs as “fish on Fridays” and “Christian vegetarianism.” These restrictions do not come from the Bible, but from the traditions of men—and Paul calls them “doctrines of demons”! He is clearly not talking about God’s instructions as to exactly which animals He created to be received as food.
1 Timothy 4:4–5 also gives us crucial context: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” To be sanctified is to be set apart, and Paul here says he is speaking of food from creatures that have been set apart by the word of God.
What animals have been set apart by the “word of God” as created for human consumption? The clean animals of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 in the Old Testament Scriptures! These include animals like the cow or sheep, which have cloven hooves and chew the cud. The word of God clearly sets them apart as created to be good for food. In fact, no animals in the world have been set apart by the word of God except the animals the Bible declares clean.
Context makes clear that Paul did not teach that every animal is good for food. He was refuting doctrines of demons and man-made restrictions, explaining that all the creatures God set apart in His word are acceptable—not those animals God did not create to be eaten in the first place.