Leviticus 11:20-23 Insects that walk on four legs?

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Grasshopper - drawing by Jonathan Huff
Grasshopper – drawing by Jonathan Huff

I would like to attempt to shed some light on a passage of scripture that gives many people an excuse to discount the accuracy of the Bible. I am not concerning myself with whether or not we should eat these insects. Rather, I am taking issue with the words “insects that walk on all fours.”

Leviticus 11:20-23 in the New International Version (1984) reads:

20  All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. 21 There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. 22 Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. 23 But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.

Use this link to read Leviticus 11:21-25 in more than one translation. There are Bible scoffers who are quick to point out verses 21 and 23 as proof that the Bible contains errors and should not be taken seriously. Here is one example of such an article.

Today’s elementary children are taught that insects have six legs, and rightly so. This is how insects have been classified by scientists around the world. Yet Leviticus 11:21 refers to insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, and katydids as insects that walk on four legs.

When Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament (including Leviticus) he didn’t first graduate from one of our schools to learn the word “insect.” He spoke ancient Hebrew. In his language there was a word that meant “fly” (עוף ooph). The following quote comes from the website “Ancient Hebrew Research Center.

Fly (עוף ooph, Strong’s #5774): This verb means ‘to fly’ while the noun form, pronounced oph [str:5775] but spelled the same, is a ‘flyer’ and can be a bird, bat or insect, anything that flies. Hebrew commonly uses word puns, words of similar sounds together. Genesis 1:20 is a good example where it says ve’oph ye’oph which means “flyers flying.”

So when we read the word “insect” in the Bible, we must understand that Moses never intended to be this specific in his word choices. Bible translators have made their best effort to put the Hebrew words of these ancient people into our language, and when it appeared that they were talking about insects, they used the English word insect.

The specific insects spoken of in Leviticus 11:21-22 were identified by our translators as grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, and katydids. If you watch these insects move around you will notice that when they are walking they use their front four legs to get them where they want to go while the back legs must simply follow or drag along. But if they need to hop, they use their over-sized back legs. The writer of Leviticus was simply using the language of his day to describe the difference between these flying creatures and other insects, birds, and bats.

Verse 23 speaks of other flying “insects” that have four legs, but the original text likely only meant flying creatures, not “insects.” This verse could easily have referred to bats, which sound pretty detestable as a food to me.

God gave us his living Word to teach us to love him and to love one another. His Word is also a record of how people have rejected him, yet he continually found ways to restore people to himself – eventually through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. But people continue to turn away from him. They continue to read his Word looking only for their perceived “loopholes” rather than for seeking to know God.

God promises in his word that if we look for him we will find him if we will seek him with all our hearts. See Jeremiah 29:13.

Here is another interesting article about “Animals in the Bible.”

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NIV) are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.


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Janice D. Green retired as an elementary librarian to write books. She is author, illustrator, and publisher of The Creation, and The First Christmas, Bible storybooks for children. The colorful illustrations in The Creation are hand appliqued fabric pictures that have been put together to make a Bible quilt. The First Christmas, is illustrated by Violet Vandor. Janice's passion is to write about the Bible in a way that encourages people to want to know more and to read it for themselves. www.honeycombadventures.com www.biblequilts.com.

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