“After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:17-19, New International Version, words in parenthesis in the original)
Before we take a deeper look at this, let’s compare the above version with the King James Version and pay careful attention to the differences:
“And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?”
Did Jesus really declare all foods clean? Well, the answer is yes, and no. He did declare all foods clean, but not in the way that you might think. No, He did not declare all foods clean if you believe that unclean creatures were ever designed as food. Jesus never changed His Father’s Law of design. Jesus did not suddenly change the animals’ DNA nor ours. Unclean creatures are scavengers, and they are designed to consume and digest poisonous toxins. Jesus did not change this, nor did He change our ability to consume and digest poisonous toxins from unclean creatures without any side effects.
But at the same time Jesus did declare all foods clean because all food is clean. Anything that was not designed for food remains unclean, while everything designed for food remains clean.
The whole context of this discussion Jesus is having with the religious leaders concerns the ceremonial washing of the hands before eating.
“Then came together unto Him (Jesus) the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)
Keep in mind this is talking about a ceremonial washing and not about simply washing your hands before you eat for hygiene purposes. This ceremonial washing was an added rule required by the Pharisees. The context is clear we are discussing “the tradition of the elders” and not about God’s Law. This washing involved pouring water on both hands, lifting them up so the water ran down the wrist and forearm, and then rubbing the hands together.
Jesus lovingly rebuked the Pharisees saying:
“… Well hath Esaias (Isaiah) prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the Commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the Commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (Mark 7:6-9)
The list of clean and unclean creatures found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are NOT “doctrines [and] commandments of men.” They are “the Commandment of God.” So, again we are NOT discussing God’s Law here. Jesus would never have taught anyone to go against God’s Law:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least Commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least (least likely to remain) in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
When Jesus says, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?”, He’s not talking about unclean creatures such as swine and shellfish. He’s talking about what will enter the body if someone does not perform the ceremonial washing first. Touching something out in the marketplace, such as a gentile, or an object used in pagan worship will not defile your hands and body as they believed. Nor will a little dirt kill you. Therefore, the ceremonial washing was a useless practice that Jesus rejected. Jesus continues and defines what does defile a person:
“And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Jesus never said that all creatures are now clean. What He said was, all foods are purified through the process of excretion into the sewer – “it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats (foods)?” (King James Version). A little dirt is no match for our digestive system – after all, we were created from the dust of the ground.
In fact, the phrase found in many of the modern translations (such as the New International Version) that says, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” is not found in the Greek. The words are καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα which mean “cleansing all the foods.” The phrase “In saying this, Jesus declared …” is not there. Take a look how Matthew quotes Jesus:
“And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?” (Matthew 15:16, 17)
Matthew adds no more comment about Jesus declaring anything clean. In Mark’s account he adds that last phrase as a parenthetical thought which is misinterpreted by most Bible scholars. All Mark is saying is that all clean foods are clean in the sense that they should never be regarded as ceremonially unclean as taught by the tradition of the elders.
Paul dealt with this same issue with the Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 8; 10:19-33). However, in Paul’s case he was dealing with clean creatures which had been offered to idols by unbelievers and now sold as meat in the marketplace. He echoes Jesus’ teaching that no clean creature can become ritually unclean. (See the article entitled: Isn’t “Every Creature” Good To Eat Now? for more on this).