Questions From Readers
● Why does Leviticus 11:20-23 speak of insects as ‘going on all fours,’ when they have six feet?—L. E., United States.
Leviticus 11:20, 21 reads: “Every winged swarming creature that goes on all fours is a loathsome thing to you. Only this is what you may eat of all the winged swarming creatures that go upon all fours, those that have leaper legs above their feet with which to leap upon the earth.”
It is unreasonable to think that the Bible writer did not know that insects with wings have six legs. He speaks of these insects that ‘go on all fours’ and then specifies certain ones in this category, and the ones he mentions have six legs, two of these being legs for leaping. A Jewish commentary gives this explanation on Le 11 verses 20 and 23: “go upon all four. The phrase used here cannot be taken to mean that the insects were possessed of only four legs. The words probably refer to their method of locomotion, and signify, ‘that move like quadrupeds.’ . . . 23. which have four feet. i.e. without the ‘bending legs.’”
There are winged insects, such as bees and flies and wasps, that walk along like the quadrupeds that go on all four. Of these, there are some with leaper legs that may be eaten. They literally have four feet that they crawl with, the other two being for leaping. The Bible is written in the colorful language of the common people, and we must allow for picturesque or descriptive expressions that are not always strictly literal. We sometimes speak of a man standing up on his hind legs and fighting. We do not mean it to be taken literally, to imply that he has forelegs and that he usually walks along on all four. We are drawing the picture from quadrupeds that rear up on their hind legs and paw or strike with their forelegs, as do horses or deer or bear when fighting. In a similar way, descriptively and not literally, the Bible refers to winged insects as going on all fours like quadrupeds.