The Bible says, “nothing … can defile him.” So why do you teach there are unclean animals?

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By BibleAsk Team


The statement “nothing… can defile him” is found in Mark 7:15 (NKJV), where Jesus addresses the Pharisees and scribes who were criticizing His disciples for eating with unwashed hands. Jesus responds by emphasizing that true defilement comes from within, from the heart, rather than from external sources such as food or ceremonial practices. However, this statement should not be understood in isolation but within the broader context of biblical teaching regarding ceremonial purity, dietary laws, and the distinction between clean and unclean animals. Let us examine the scriptural passages that address this question closely:

“Nothing…Can Defile Him”

Jesus said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man” (Mark 7:35). Some generally miss the point of verses 15–23 by applying them to the clean and unclean flesh foods as distinguished in Leviticus 11.

This incident makes definitely clear that Jesus in this passage was not calling into question in any way the unclean foods of the Old Testament, but rather was negating the validity of oral customs (Mark 7:3). He was speaking against the custom that stated that foods eaten with hands not properly washed (in a ritualistic sense) became the cause of defilement (verse 2).

The Savior rejected, “the commandments of men” (verse 7) for they were in sharp contrast to the “commandment of God” (verse 8) as set forth in the Scriptures. To apply verses 15–23 to the matter of clean and unclean meats is to overlook the context completely. Had Jesus, at this time, erased the distinction between clean and unclean flesh foods, Peter would not later have replied as he did to the idea of eating unclean flesh foods. He said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Acts 10:9–18, 34; 11:5–18).

It should be emphasized that the issue here between Jesus and the Pharisees had nothing whatever to do with the kind of food to be eaten, but only with the way in which it was to be eaten—whether with or without customary hand washing (verse 2, 3). According to Jewish guidelines, even meat that was clean according to Leviticus 11, might still be measured as unclean by contacting an unclean person (Mark 6:43).

In this passage, the Savior confirmed that the moral desecration of breaking “the commandment of God” is of much greater significance than the ritual desecration, especially when the latter is based entirely on “the tradition of men” (verses 7, 8). To defile the soul, Jesus says, is a far more serious matter than ritual desecration of the body, which is caused by contact with persons or things that are ritually unclean.

Biblical Basis for Clean and Unclean Animals

The distinction between clean and unclean animals is rooted in the Old Testament law given to the people of Israel. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 provide detailed instructions regarding dietary laws, specifying which animals are considered clean and suitable for consumption and which are deemed unclean and to be avoided.

These chapters outline the criteria for determining clean and unclean animals. Animals that chew the cud and have cloven hooves are considered clean, while those that do not meet these criteria are considered unclean. Examples of unclean animals include pigs, camels, and certain types of seafood. The rationale behind these dietary laws is health considerations.

In conclusion, while the Bible affirms the principle that true defilement comes from within, it also acknowledges the distinction between clean and unclean animals in the context of the Old Testament law. Ultimately, Christians are called to glorify God in all aspects of life, including their choices regarding food and nutrition.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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