Does Mark 7:19 point to unclean meats?

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By BibleAsk Team


Mark 7:19 has been a source of debate and confusion among Christians regarding its implications for dietary laws and the consumption of unclean meats. In this comprehensive exploration, we will examine the context of Mark 7:19 (verses 1-14, 20-23), considering the cultural and religious background of Jesus’ time, the intended meaning of the passage, and its relevance to dietary practices.

Contextual Analysis

Jesus said, “because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”  (Mark 7:19). The issue here was not about clean or unclean animals but rather regarding the washing of hands before eating. Let’s read the previous verses in the same chapter: “And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault…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 7:2, 5).

a. Pharisaic Traditions: The Pharisees and scribes in Jesus’ time were known for their strict adherence to religious traditions, including ritual washings before meals (Mark 7:1-5). These traditions were not mandated by the Mosaic Law but were developed as additional regulations by religious leaders.

b. Accusation against Jesus’ Disciples: The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus’ disciples for not observing these ritual washings before eating (Mark 7:2, 5). Jesus responded by challenging their focus on external rituals over matters of the heart and true righteousness.

c. Teaching on True Defilement: Jesus used this confrontation to teach about true defilement, emphasizing that it is not what goes into a person’s body that defiles them but what comes out of their heart (Mark 7:15, 20-23). He declared all foods clean, pointing to the internal condition of the heart as the true source of defilement.

Exegesis of Mark 7:19

Mark 7:19 (NKJV) states, “because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods.” This verse is often cited in discussions about dietary laws and the consumption of unclean meats.

a. Clarification of Meaning: Jesus’ statement in Mark 7:19 is a parenthetical comment by the Gospel writer, providing clarification on the significance of eating food with unwashed hands. It does not introduce a new teaching on dietary laws but rather emphasizes the irrelevance of external rituals for spiritual purity.

b. Cultural Context: In Jewish culture, there were strict dietary laws outlined in the Mosaic Law, including prohibitions against certain animals considered unclean (Leviticus 11). However, Jesus’ statement in Mark 7:19 is not addressing the validity of these dietary laws but rather the Pharisaic traditions of ritual washings.

c. Bromata (Greek) – Food: It should be noted that the Greek word bromata, translated “meats,” means simply “that which is eaten,” “food,” and includes all kinds of food; it never refers to the flesh of animals as distinguished from other kinds of food. To limit the words “purging all meats” to flesh foods and to conclude that Christ here abolished the distinction between clean and unclean flesh used as food (Leviticus 11) is to ignore completely the meaning of the Greek.

Interpretation and Application

a. Spiritual Focus: Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:19 emphasizes the importance of focusing on matters of the heart rather than external rituals. True defilement comes from within, from sinful attitudes and actions that originate in the heart (Mark 7:21-23).

b. Freedom in Christ: While Jesus’ statement in Mark 7:19 is not a direct commentary on dietary laws, it has been misinterpreted by some as indicating a freedom for Christians from the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law.

c. Principles of Healthy Living: Christians are to abide with God’s law of diet and health. The Bible encourages stewardship of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), which includes making wise choices about what we eat.

    Conclusion

    Mark 7:19 does not directly address the topic of unclean meats but rather emphasizes the insignificance of external rituals for spiritual purity. Jesus’ teaching in this passage challenges us to focus on matters of the heart and true righteousness. Christians are to adhere to the Old Testament dietary laws and use it as a guide to what they eat, with a focus on honoring God in all aspects of their lives.

    In His service,
    BibleAsk Team

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