In Genesis 7, God tells Noah to take with him 7 pairs of clean animals in contrast to only one pair of all other animals. Additionally, 7 pairs of birds were to be taken as well.

Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. Genesis 7:2-3

However, prior to the flood, it seems that mankind was not allowed to eat meat, as God specifically allows for it after the flood. Furthermore, the distinction between clean animals and unclean animals for consumption was not revealed until the time of Moses.

Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Genesis 9:3

I guess it is possible that people did, in fact, eat meat prior to the flood, but did so against God's decree. However, not many of them were following God's decrees.

So, is there any indication of what a clean animal would have been right before the flood that distinguished them from other animals?

  • God brought the animals to Noah. All Noah needed to do to identify clean animals is count them. Seven pairs - clean or bird. One pair - unclean. If so, then God just explained to Noah, why there were certain species that came in larger head count. Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 6:53

2 Answers 2


There's no literal indication. Apparently (correct me if I'm wrong on this), the humans knew which animals were pure and which weren't even before of the flood. You can observe this when God tells Noah to take the animals into the ark:

2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Gen 7:2

In the following verses Noah doesn't question this order, neither asks God for which animals were pure or not. So, this is an indicator that humans knew some of Moses' Laws (probably all). About this, some people believe that God engraved the Moses' Laws onto the hearts of the humans, but this is just a theory.

About the meat: The biblical text doesn't say God forbid to eat meat before the flood explicitly, according to Gen 1:29-30 (KJV) he gave like herbs and seeds for the human to eat:

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

He didn't forbid it, neither allowed it. But later, after the flood, He gave the humans authority to eat animals' meat.


  • 1
    To add to your good answer, Adventists, which believe in keeping the food requirements laid down in the law, believe that Moses was only parroting what was already considered law (at least for that). They define the food requirements as moral, rather than civil/ceremonial because they clearly existed before Moses.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:48
  • "humans knew some of Moses' Laws (probably all)", except that Cain obviously married his sister. At least the commands against incest must not have existed (and for good reason; they weren't needed yet!). I suspect most of the ceremonial law didn't exist, either.
    – Matthew
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 15:41

We can tell what "clean" means by what Noah did with them. They were not "clean" for eating, because God granted Noah permission to eat any moving thing (Gen 9:3). They were "clean" for sacrifice, because that is what Noah did with them (Gen 8:20).

Sacrifice to cover sin was instituted by God when He clothed Adam and Eve with skins (Gen 3:21). It was taught to Cain and Abel (Gen 4:4). So we must assume that God clarified it to Noah either directly or through his forefathers so that Noah understood the animals to be used for that purpose. Extra pairs were included on the ark because they would be used later for both food and sacrifice (not just food) so that the world would need plenty of them.

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