If the food that God didn’t create for human consumption like shrimp, camel, and all the unclean food that was not intended for eating, how could it be sanctified by prayer and word of God if God didn’t sanctify it in the first place?

1 Tim 4:3-5 - They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from certain foods that God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creation of God is good, and nothing that is received with thanksgiving should be rejected, because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

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After the flood, Yahveh gave Noah (man) every living creature for food.

Genesis 9:3

3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.
New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Yet, when the Torah was given, Yahveh forbade the Israelites from eating certain animals and designated them as unclean to the Israelites.1 This suggests that these certain animals were not inherently unclean. Rather, Yahveh only forbade the Israelites from eating them. Why the prohibition? Perhaps the prohibition was given to teach obedience and restraint to the Israelites.2

Note Justin Martyr,3

For, you were also commanded to abstain from certain foods so that you would keep God before your eyes when you ate and drank, since you were prone and very ready to depart from His knowledge, as Moses also states, “The people ate and drank, and rose up to play”. And again, “Jacob ate, and was satisfied, and waxed fat; and he who was beloved kicked: he waxed fat, he grew thick, he was enlarged, and he forsook God who had made him”.

Καὶ γὰρ βρωμάτων τινῶν ἀπέχεσθαι προσέταξεν ὑμῖν, ἵνα καὶ ἐν τῷ ἐσθίειν καὶ πίνειν πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν ἔχητε τὸν θεόν, εὐκατάφοροι ὄντες καὶ εὐχερεῖς πρὸς τὸ ἀφίστασθαι τῆς γνώσεως αὐτοῦ, ὡς καὶ Μωυσῆς φησιν· Ἔφαγε καὶ ἔπιεν ὁ λαὸς καὶ ἀνέστη τοῦ παίζειν. καὶ πάλιν· Ἔφαγεν Ἰακὼβ καὶ ἐνεπλήσθη, καὶ ἐλιπάνθη, καὶ ἀπελάκτισεν ὁ ἠγαπημένος· ἐλιπάνθη, ἐπαχύνθη, ἐπλατύνθη, καὶ ἐγκατέλιπε θεὸν τὸν ποιήσαντα αὐτόν.

Based on the words מתיר אסורים (“He frees the prisoners”) in Psa. 146:7, the Midrash Psalms (Midrash Shocher Tov) states,4

“He frees the prisoners”. What is the meaning of “He frees the prisoners”? There are those who say that every animal that is considered unclean in this world, the Holy One Blessed Be He will make it clean in the world to come. And thus it says (Eccl. 1:9), “That which has been is what will be, etc.” And whatever is made clean used [to be clean] before the days of Noah. And thus it says, (Gen. 9:3) “I have given you all things, even as the green herbs”. I gave green herbs to all; I also [gave] wild and domesticated animals to all from the beginning. Then why did He forbid it? To see who would receive His word and who would not receive it. But in the world to come, He will permit whatever [animal] was forbidden.

מתיר אסורים מהו מתיר אסורים יש אומרים כל הבהמה שנטמאת בעולם הזה מטהר אותה הקב"ה לעתיד לבוא וכן הוא אומר (קהלת א ט) מה שהיה הוא שיהיה ומה שנעשה טהורים היו מקודם לבני נח וכן הוא אומר להן (בראשית ט ג) כירק עשב נתתי לכם את כל מה ירק עשב נתתי לכל אף החיה והבהמה לכל מתחלה ולמה אסר אותה לראות מי שמקבל דבריו ומי אינו מקבל ולעתיד לבוא הוא מתיר את כל מה שאסר

The Hebrew phrase מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים consists of two words related to the verbs נָתַר (natar) and אָסַר (asar). These verbs are usually translated in English as some form of “loose” and “bind”, respectively. However, they also became legal terms. For those familiar with the New Testament, these are the underlying Hebrew verbs for the phrase “bind and loose.”5

The Midrash, in typical midrashic fashion, re-interprets מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים as though it refers, not to freeing prisoners, but rather, to unbinding or loosing מַאֲכָלוֹת אֲסוּרוֹת (maʾakhalot asurot), “forbidden foods” or literally, “bound foods”. In rabbinical terminology, food that is permitted to be eaten is described as מֻתָּר (muttar)—literally, “loosed”. On the other hand, food that is forbidden to be eaten is described as אֲסוּר (asur)—literally, “bound”. Hence, “[Yahveh] frees the prisoners” is interpreted as “[Yahveh] looses (or permits) bound (or prohibited) food”.

Marcus Jastrow on הִתִּיר (hittir), the Hifʿil conjugation of נָתַר (natar),6

enter image description here

The apostle Paul elsewhere wrote, “Do not destroy the work of God because of food. All [food] is clean.”7

1 Lev. 11; Deu. 14. Hence, Lev. 11:8: טְמֵאִים הֵם לָכֶם (“they are unclean to you”) not “they are unclean to all”.
2 cf. Deu. 32:15
3 Ch. XX; p. 111 (English); p. 517 (Greek)
4 p. 198
5 cf. Matt. 16:19, 18:18
6 Jastrow, Vol. 2, p. 946
7 Rom. 14:20
Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Vol. II. Trans. Dods, Marcus; Reith, George; Pratten, B. P. Ed. Donaldson, James; Roberts, Alexander. Edinburgh: Clark, 1867.

Jastrow, Marcus. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. Vol. 2. London: Luzac; New York: Putnam, 1903.

Midrash Shocher Tov al Tehillim (מדרש שוחר טוב על תהילים). Warsaw: Zisberg, 1875.

Justin Martyr. Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca. “Πρὸς Τρύφωνα Ἰουδαῖον Διάλογος” (“Dialogue with Trypho the Jew”). Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 6. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857.
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    I know that this answer has been posted for some time, but I would ask you to consider changing your tables to text that is more accessible (see Standard format for biblical quotations). If you would like assistance with formatting for accessibility, I am more that willing to help.
    – agarza
    Sep 10, 2023 at 4:02

I think the OP has answered the question - offering thanksgiving for something that was never intended to eaten does not make it clean. For example:

  • should hard drugs be taken with thanksgiving and expect God to bless it?
  • should poison be eaten without harm because it was taken with thanksgiving?
  • Does this instruction in 1 Tim 4 allow people to eat rats and toxic plants and animals?

Note that whatever is eaten must be "sanctified by the word" - ie, be consistent with the revealed will of God. Note the explicit instruction given by the Jerusalem council:

Acts 15:28, 29 - It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond these essential requirements: You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.


The whole letter, including the text in question, is addressed to Timothy, to instruct him in how to discharge his ministry, directly given to him by the apostle Paul. Timothy is to oversee souls, Christians of the 1st century A.D., some of whom were Jews who converted to Christ, but increasing numbers of Gentile converts were coming into fellowship.

Paul flagged up spiritual dangers he was to protect these Christians from. One such was the infiltration of profane and vain babblers trying to bring back the law of Moses (4:1-2). This is one particular way of corrupting the gospel of Christ - there are many other - but the need here is to stick to legalistic attitudes regarding marriage and eating of certain foods, as per the question.

At that time, the contemporary manifestation of creeping apostasy is detailed in this text-book about the 1st letter to Timothy as:

"...asceticism, demanded by those who subvert the gospel and deny the faith, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats [an AV word for 'food']. This unlawful and unevangelical celibacy and fasting stood in the commandments of men under the influence of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. But God has created all things to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth, according to his word." First Timothy, p 91, John Metcalfe

Christian Hebrews were told that "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4) No Christian should feel obliged to abstain from marriage due to what others tell him, or command. That is a matter of personal conscience; those who choose to marry do not sin - 1 Corinthians 7:38. Yet there were some Gnostics who felt that flesh was so corrupt, they must be ascetics. They even went so far as to deny that the Son of God could ever become human, and warnings about them appear elsewhere in the New Testament.

As for abstinence from certain foods, this could involve Mosaic dietary laws and/or fasting. However, Christians knew that they had been delivered from the law, including dietary regulations. In Romans chapter 14 they were told by Paul that

"He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks... Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitable. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died... For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.. For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatever is not of faith is sin." Romans 14:6, 13-15, 17, 20-23

It was the same writer of that detailed explanation about Christians employing their conscience in matters of eating and drinking who wrote to Timothy that verse in question. Now it becomes clear what he meant in 1 Timothy 4: about God providing things to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. Because Christians were no longer under the Mosaic dietary laws, the word of God and prayer had sanctified their food, and marriage was also honourable. They were not to listen to either Gnostics who condemned marriage and required fastings, or to Judaic legalists who wanted to tie them down to dietary laws. In Acts chapter 15, only drinking or eating blood remained "off the menu" (not that it ever was allowed in Jewish diets), nor were they to take up circumcision (which would bind them to the Mosaic law).

Conclusion: Those unclean foods listed in the Old Testament were only prohibited to the Jewish nation for as long as the old covenant (testament) applied. When Jesus brought in the new covenant (for both Jewish and Gentile Christians) none of the dietary laws obtained any longer, so there was no such thing as "unclean food" for them now. The only thing they would need to be careful about (so as not to stumble Jewish people from considering Christianity) was blood, or being seen eating meat that had first been presented before an idol. (Repeated in Acts 21:25) Even so, they could eat such meat if their conscience allowed them, and others were not stumbled in their faith. And Paul's further explanations as quoted in Romans chapter 14 give us the word of God on that, as confirmation and explanation.


1 Timothy was written by Paul to the Church in Ephesus, which was a Greek city in what is now Turkey.

Jews and Christians were a very small minority there, and many members of the Church were Pagan converts. Those converts came from a religious background of asceticism and dualism. To them the mortal body was considered evil and only by experiencing physical pain and suffering would one's immortal soul be perfected. All physical pleasure was thus considered a sin.

Many of the converts, especially when pressured by their friends, relatives, etc., were tempted to slide back into Paganism. The first verse describes this, saying that "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils".

The people of Ephesus believed in celibacy and vegetarianism ("Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats"), and condemned the Christians for what they saw as their immoral practices.

Paul's message is that physical pleasure was created by God as a gift to mankind; such things as marital sex and delicious food are to be enjoyed, not rejected.

Paul goes on to say, "we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men". The Christians must put up with the condemnation they receive, knowing that God has ordained that what they are doing is good, not the sin that the Pagans believe it to be.

But, to answer the original question, there is no suggestion in this scripture (or any other) that in any way suggests that it is okay to eat things that God has not declared fit to eat, any more than it is okay to use promiscuous sex as a source of pleasure.

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