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Did Jesus declare all foods clean in Mark 7?

Categories: Biblical Diet,Torah Class

A visitor to the website recently asked the question “Did Jesus declare all foods clean?” In fact, here is the complete question: “In Mark 7:15-19 in brackets it is written, ‘(in saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean).’ Why are there brackets? And did Jesus declare all foods clean? Why? What is the meaning of verse 19? Please help.” And here is our answer:

Did Jesus declare all foods clean

Excellent question, thanks for taking the time to post it! Let me start by pointing you to two of our teachings that are related:

Can Christians eat pork?

Did Jesus abolish the law?

The first teaching talks about what the Bible defines as food for us. The second teaching addresses whether or not Jesus (Yeshua) came to do away with the Law. And this is very important because God commanded his people to keep the commandments, including the food laws. And his people for the most part had been following the Biblical food laws for 1,500 years by the time of Jesus.

It was a really big deal to the Jewish people to which Jesus belonged. So if God was going to overturn his own commandments regarding food, you would expect that he would do so in a manner that was like how he had given the commandments in the first place.

Recall that he gave the commandments to all Israel (including the resident foreigners who lived with Israel) by speaking like thunder to them from the fire-engulfed Mt. Sinai. The entire mountain shook as smoke billowed from it and the people were in awe at the awesome display of God as they heard his very voice from the glory cloud on the mountain. There was absolutely no uncertainty that God was speaking and what he expected his people to do and not do.

Now compare that to what we see in Mark 7. After 1,500 years, God decides that food that has been unclean for more than a millennium (at least) was now perfectly acceptable to eat. And the way he chooses to communicate that major change is not by speaking from a thundering mountain by fire or even by speaking through one of the prophets in a “Thus says the LORD” statement, but rather, he allegedly chose to communicate this drastic change through a parenthetical statement in one verse of one Gospel. I don’t think so.

But let’s take a quick look at the verse and the passage. First, there are no such things as brackets or parentheses in Greek, the language that we currently have the manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark written in. The brackets/parentheses are supplied by the translators in some but not all of our English translations. Those that supply them are giving their belief that the phrase is a parenthetical statement added by Mark (or perhaps a later scribe?) to explain what Jesus had said. It’s not a statement that Jesus himself said, it’s in interpretation of what he said, at best.

But the phrase “Thus he declared all foods clean” is simply one possible English translation, it is not at all unanimous in English translations. Here are some other translations of Mark 7:19 that do not translate it that way:

“because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats.” Young’s Literal Translation

“Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats” King James Version

“because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods” New King James Version

“because it does not enter into his heart but into his belly, and goes out into the draught, purging all meats” Darby Bible

Note that all of these are mainstream Christian translations, not Messianic/Hebrew Roots translations.

The bigger point is that the eating of Biblically defined clean and unclean foods is nowhere to be found in the context of Mark 7. The passage is entirely about a specific sect within Judaism–the Pharisees–and their requirement that you ritually wash your hands before every meal. The passage never brings up or is concerned with the Biblical definition of food. If you go back to Mark 7:1 and start at the beginning of the chapter, you will see this very clearly. No one ever asks what the definition of clean or unclean food is or if you can now eat pork and other unclean animals. No, the passage and the controversy is entirely about the Pharisaical tradition of ritual hand washing, not about what you eat after you wash your hands.

The Pharisees (and likely some others among the Jewish population) ritually washed their hands in an attempt to apply the Biblical purity laws that applied to the priesthood (and especially at the Temple) to all of the Jewish people regardless of which of the 12 tribes they belonged to and regardless of if they were at the Temple or not.

As is the case at other times, the problem that Jesus has with this is not necessarily that they wanted to be ritually clean, it’s that they were neglecting the Torah (God’s commandments) and instead were forcing people to follow their traditions. I doubt that Jesus would mind if someone wanted to ritually wash their hands so long as they did not neglect the commandments, and especially the weightier matters of the Law. And so long as no one attempted to order all other people to follow their traditions.

Here’s a very good summary of the issue from David Stern’s “Jewish New Testament Commentary”:

Thus he declared all foods ritually clean, even if the participants at the meal have not washed their hands. But Yeshua did not, as many suppose, abrogate the laws of kashrut and thus declare ham kosher! Since the beginning of the chapter the subject has been ritual purity as taught by the Oral Torah in relation to n’tilat-yadayim (vv. 2–4&N) and not kashrut at all! There is not the slightest hint anywhere that foods in this verse can be anything other than what the Bible allows Jews to eat, in other words, kosher foods. Neither is kashrut abolished in Ac 10:9–28 or Ga 2:11–16; see notes there.

Rather, Yeshua is continuing his discussion of spiritual prioritizing (v. 11&N). He teaches that tohar (purity) is not primarily ritual or physical, but spiritual (vv. 14–23). On this ground he does not entirely overrule the Pharisaic/rabbinic elaborations of the laws of purity, but he does demote them to subsidiary importance. See Yn 7:22–23&N on the halakhic process of assigning ranks to potentially conflicting laws. Yeshua here is making Messianic halakhah.

The Greek text at this point is a dangling participial clause, literally, “cleansing all the foods.” There is no “Thus he declared”; I have added these words for the sake of clarifying the one meaning I believe this passage can have, namely, that it is Mark’s halakhic summary of Yeshua’s remarks (see Section V of the Introduction to the JNT, paragraph on “The Translator and His Interpretations”). However, some believe this phrase is not a comment by Mark but part of what Yeshua himself said and render it: “a process which cleanses all food.” According to this understanding, Yeshua is explaining that the body’s ordinary digestive process makes all foods clean enough to be eaten, so that handwashing is of minor importance and the P’rushim shouldn’t be giving it so much attention. Conclusively against such a rendering is that it suddenly puts the focus on hygiene instead of ritual purity, which is the topic of the rest of the passage. It does not answer the halakhic sh’eilah (“question”; see Mt 22:23N) about ritual purity posed by the P’rushim, because food can have in it not a single germ and yet be ritually unclean.

Moreover, the nominative masculine form of the Greek participle “katharizôn” (“cleansing”) agrees grammatically with “legei” (“he replied,” literally, “he says”) in v. 18, so that on the basis of the linguistic evidence it makes better sense to suppose that “cleansing all the foods,” like “he replied,” is a comment by Mark and not part of what Yeshua said.

Hope this helps!


Related Teaching to Did Jesus declare all foods clean?:

Can Christians eat pork?


More Messianic Food


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