This is part of a series that began here.
“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
(Thus he declared all foods clean.)
What the Verse Seems to Say
He declared all foods clean. It’s simple. For lovers of bacon, this verse seals the deal. You are forever allowed to enjoy pig products in any form you’d like. Actually, you can enjoy any of the animals previously forbidden by God – shrimp, clams, lobster, dogs, rats. They’re all clean.
The problem is that the Father clearly says otherwise throughout the scriptures. He very specifically lays out which animals He created for food and which He doesn’t want us eating or even touching. For the sake of brevity, we’ll look only at the mentions of pigs:
- And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you. (Leviticus 11:7-8)
- I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks;who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels. (Isaiah 65:2-4)
- Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 66:17)
The problem is worsened when we consider that the Savior Himself said that the words He spoke were not His but the Father’s who sent Him (John 14:24). His words become downright heretical when we consider that the Father warned that only false prophets would speak against His commandments (Deut 13:1-5).
When I started studying whether the food laws had been lifted by the Savior in the New Testament, this was one of the primary verses I needed to address. I went to one of my trusty online study tools, InterlinearBible.org, and was blown away by what I found.
The sentence, “Thus He declared all food clean” is NOT in the original text!
What it says is that food enters into the belly, then into the latrine, thereby purifying all the food.
The word translated “purifying” is the Greek word katharizo, which according to Strongs Concordance means “cleanse, purge, purify.”
He is simply describing the digestive process. You eat food, then purge it.
The beginning of chapter seven lays out the context and helps us to understand what the exact topic of conversation is.
Some Pharisees, who adhered to a very strict, totally man-made system of hand-washing, saw that Jesus’ disciples ate without washing their hands at all. This made them indignant.
It’s important to note that God never outlined any method of cleansing hands before eating. Our Savior and His disciples were not breaking any God-given instruction. But the Pharisees were professional extra-Biblical rule-makers. And they were furious when anyone refused to follow them.
Our Savior responded with scathing rebuke:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”
He was telling His disciples that eating with unwashed hands would not defile them. It was the contents of our hearts that defile us. People like the Pharisees who left the commandments of God to chase after their own traditions were the defiled ones.
What Was Not Up For Discussion
The definition of what counted as food was never in question. God only created certain animals to be eaten. Everyone involved in this conversation was on the same page on that issue.
Can you imagine what the Pharisees’ response would have been if He had said what most believers think he said?! Overturning the Father’s dietary laws would have definitively made him a false prophet. And doing so right after chastising the Pharisees for abandoning the law would have been just plain weird. No need to continue testing Him or looking for false witnesses to testify against him. The whole crowd would have been up in arms. This would have been a much bigger issue than our Bibles present.
The Savior did not challenge Mosaic law by changing the definition of food. He merely challenged the man-made notion that eating with dirty hands would defile you.
For further study, here are two more posts you may enjoy.