In Mark 7 we read about a sharp debate between Judean Pharisees and Jesus over the fact that his Galilean disciples did not follow an important Pharisaic innovation introduced long ago. This innovation had to do with the perceived need to ensure that prior to consuming clean/fit and properly prepared food, a person must also wash hands, in order not to make something that is already holy, common by accident. By the time the conflict recounted in Mark 7 occurred, this Pharisaic innovation had already become “a tradition of the elders” and was treated as such, with great respect by most Judeans. (vs. 1-4)

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of neglecting the commandments of Torah, holding instead to the tradition of man. (vs. 8) Addressing the crowd, Jesus states: “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him, but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” (vs. 15) This was but a summary of regulations governing bodily discharges as spelled out in Leviticus 15. These bodily discharges come out of the body and do not enter it. According to Jesus, a much deeper spiritual reality is concealed here – namely, that all evil comes out into the world from the human heart (meaning inside out not the other way around). (vs.20-23)

Some rightly seeking to reclaim the intensely Jewish character of Mark’s gospel has mistakenly suggested that vs. 19 (Thus He declared all foods clean) is an editorial addition to the original text, made by Gentile Christians disinterested in Jewish issues. I suggest, however, that this line is in fact, an integral part of Mark’s very Jewish argument! The law of bodily discharge is a case in point. Defending Torah against the Pharisees, Jesus upholds a long-standing Galilean Jewish tradition, declaring that foods cannot make an Israelite unclean, because in Torah it works the other way around!

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74 COMMENTS

  1. I love the ancient cultural insight that is given here. It’s something that brings such depth of understanding, yet it’s incredibly difficult to grasp.

  2. Dear Gayle, Pork is forbidden in the so-called “Jewish community,” why not People of Israel, because it is forbidden in G-d’s Torah to eat it; it has nothing to do with making a person unclean! Do you actually read what is written here or just comment on it? Daniel Boyarin

  3. The key issue that needs clarity is whether the Jews to whom Jesus was talking could now start eating what they previously considered to be unclean – such as pork. What is the meaning of food in this case. Is the distinction between clean and unclean food now invalid?

    • Joseph, since the discussion here has nothing to do with it (but with natilyat yedaim – hands washing), nothing in this text can answer the question you are asking :-).

  4. I agree food as prescribed in the Torah does not make you unclean. We still would NOT want to eat anything which is an abomination Deuteronomy 14 v3. My view is the eating laws were not changed by our Messiah. He never ate anything we are told not to eat. He was not rewriting changing or obseleting the Torah, but elevating it higher! Shalom to all

      • I hear Hebrew Roots people say this too (b/c I use to be one) but putting ourselves in the position of the Pharisees, if Jesus said this, wouldn’t we be expecting him to say “except…” & list the unclean foods? But he doesn’t. Why? Instead, he calls a crowd to himself to make this announcement. Later the apostles are baffled & ask him to explain. Why would they be baffled if this was ONLY about handwashing? The purity laws in Lev 11-15 seem to be connected to being pure in the camp so they don’t defile the temple? Lev 15:31

    • Indeed. The text should be read in the correct context as nothing nullifies the Lev 11 prescriptions on what to eat or not to. The idea that we now can eat everything and anything prohibited in Lev 11 seems to come from Christians who have unlimited appetites for anything that moves.

  5. “Food” in the scriptures represents the kind of people with whom we have close fellowship. We need to pray for discernment regarding the people we come into contact with. Do not cast your pearls before swine. Not everyone who says to Yeshu’a “Lord, Lord” will be in the kingdom of heaven.

  6. Acts 10 Romans 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 1 Corinthians 8:8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 1 Corinthians 10:30-31 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to Agape.

    • Loy, I know that this is an accepted party line (forgive my anology), but try to reread this post and then also read https://israelbiblecenter.com/eat-not-eat/ see if this can help you to rethink this issue. For those interested in deeper treatment of this YOU MUST enroll (yes!) and watch the roundtable talk between me and Rabbi Joseph Shulam.

  7. After living in a country for almost 15 years where pork is a mainstay, I am personally biased against it. The odor of cooked pork alone makes my stomach turn. It’s interesting to read Maimonides’ description in Guide to the Perplexed of the French over 1000 years ago regarding pork. He makes a very strong argument against consuming pork using that example, and it was part of the many reasons for me to cement my position on it. I don’t condemn anyone for eating what someone labeled “non-foods” but I cannot fellowship at a table with pork for personal reasons. 14+ years was too much for me and the odor of pork was practically all around me almost every day. Let’s also keep in mind that all research is biased to begin with; all humans have personal opinions. Now if I’m in the pork industry, I will accept and publish only researches that satisfy my claims. It’s the same with almost any industry, especially science and education. I read about so-called organic pigs but like dogs, pigs don’t sweat out their toxins. That alone for me is reason enough to avoid eating anything that will produce more toxins in my body. Eating carefully and healthy is part of living a holy life, not a self-righteous life (which some people would accuse me of).

  8. Thank you Dr Eli for your exposition of this passage. I quite agree with you that our Lord was reproaching the foolishness of the Pharisees in their hypocrisy and outward show of religion and oppression of the people with their tradition v7-9. If the source is clean then that which floes from it will be clean. Thank you again Dr.

  9. Declaring all food clean in Mark was a scriveners Note. Look in old translations and it will be marked differently with that explanation. Learned that in Bible College. You might be able to use it for some kind of lesson but it is only a note. What is Food? Definition of food to the writers of the NT. Read Lev. & Deut. that is the writers definition of food. They aren’t even thinking of unclean meat as food. You are correct he is talking about what is in the heart of people not abut food. Adding the thus he declared all food clean, makes no sense in the context of what he is talking about aka HEART ATTITUDE. Blessings! Cathy

  10. I was taught & I believe ; that God our Father used the commands in regards to clean & unclean animals to cymbolize thoughts & behaviour ! The divided hoof symbolizes discernment for what we do & where we go ! Chewing the cud symbolizes meditation for the Spiritual & the Eternal !

    • The problem with this explanation and others like health-related is because it goes against general Jewish principle FIRST DO, THEN UNDERSTAND. (the implication being is we do without needing to understand).

  11. Well I have a problem here. My husband use to eat pork he loves ham and bacon but now he can not eat it. It makes him sick. We had a Rabbi here that stayed with us told us that the reason for not eating pork was because pigs do not have sweat glands and can not expel the toxins that is there. It stays in the meat. So I wonder if this true and the reason that we do not eat pork now. So I think that we need to check this more and not keep saying that it is OK to eat it. G~d said to not eat for a reason. Could that be the reason?

  12. (NASB)
    16 Therefore no one is to [a]act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath [b]day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the [c]substance [d]belongs to Christ.

    I think, is nothing to do with medical/ health, if you pray to ask our God to bless our food before we eat.

  13. Jesus was not discussing which foods are considered clean. He was simply teaching that the tradition of ritual hand washing prior to eating was MAN MADE TRADITIONS and not a COMMANDMENT FROM GOD. But since the discussion has turned to the question of why certain foods are considered as unclean, the answer on the basest level is BECAUSE GOD SAID SO and HE doesn’t have to explain why. But with deeper searching of the days of the tabernacle in the wildernest, we see that the REASON is the same for all things that were forbidden to be within the camp.

  14. I worked in the meat industry for many years and have butchered more pigs than I have had hot dinners. The pig is the only animal that has an outlet pipe(for want of a better word) just above the foot – trotter. It has this pipe in order to release the excess toxins because it’s body contains more toxins than other animals due to the
    fact a pig turns absorbed food stuffs into meat far quicker than other animals do.
    I don’t eat pork for religious and safety reasons.

  15. Peter was still keeping the dietary law in Acts 10, and we are told that sin is the transgression of the law -1John 3:4. With that, I am ok with the dietary law.

  16. Agreed that this passage cannot possibly be about food.
    Also agreed that obedience should not be contingent on us finding a rationale for why God gave a particular instruction.

    Nevertheless, this is hilarious:

    “Father, please change the molecular structure of this … complete trash we’re about to shove into our gullet. Please change the Cheetoh into a carrot stick on the way down!” – Tim Hawkins , The Food Prayer

    • I am a “pagan gentile” and no Jewish blood in my Genes. But, you are correct in what in the Levetical tradition to be ritually unclean as against “Kosher. The dietary prohibition on the unclean and even the apostle Paul said eat what is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. Whoa, isn’t this the Pharisee of Pharisees speaking?In the first Council in the book of Acts, it is clear that only those offered to idols. I don’t think we are instructed to suddenly become Jews are we? The context probably was faith. To the one who eats?

      • First off, you aren’t “pagan” just because you’re not Jewish. Secondly, Paul acknowledged that an idol is nothing and ruled it okay to eat meats even if it was slaughtered to idols as long as the issue doesn’t come up. But if the issue arises, then he said definitely do not eat, so as to protest sacrificing to idols. Basically he doesn’t want anyone to stumble in their faith. So if the issue doesn’t come up, great, and if it does, don’t eat.

  17. The issue with pork is no longer trichinosis. However, there is an issue with it, as with the other animals that were declared, “unclean”. These animals of land, sea and air are the scavengers that were created to detoxify our environment. They are able to eat things that other animals cannot, without issue to their health. But these animals also happen to lack the ability to spill the toxins back into the environment. A pig can eat toxins, and because it doesn’t sweat, whatever it eats is not released into the air.

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong or if my question has already been answered but wasn’t hand washing a command given to the Priesthood found within the Law of Moses – as was the vast majority of the Law of Moses only referred to the High Priest and the Levitical Priesthood.

    • Very Good Lynn, that’s right. When the Sadducees cheapened the priestly office, the Pharisees took on customs that mirrored priestly holiness in defiance to the indifference of the Sadducees. It was never a commandment for the non-levites, but it was something that the Pharisees took on in an effort to live a more holy life. But ultimately, most of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were acting hypocritically caring less for holiness and more for prestige.

  19. Insightful! Also, the Greek doesn’t say “Thus he declared all foods clean”. It simply says “cleansing/purging all foods”. As I understand it, Yeshua is saying that the person or latrine cleanses, i.e. purges, the foods from the person, leaving all the defiling stuff outside of the person, rendering him unclean.

  20. If certain foods were unclean in the O.T. dietary laws, why would they be Clean now after the whole earth has literally become more polluted?
    If “what goes in the mouth” does not defile the body, why are many sickened and have food allergies and food poisoned daily?

    • Unclean meats did not become clean in the New Testament. Jesus was expounding the idea that what comes out of a person (evil abundance of the heart) defiles him.

  21. The Bible is a compendium of fire side tales and fables, recounted orally for generations by goat herders and primitive tribes from the stone age, until writing was invented, and then again, many different sources, transliterations, and versions were copied and written down.

  22. The Bible was created during a time where stories were orally passed down over thousands of years. Stories constantly morphed and changed over time, and the Bible is a collection of these.

    • Thanks for reading and posting, Brien, but I don’t see how your comment is related to the article. Do you want to say something about this topic?

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