Why are there unclean foods when Jesus said, “nothing that enters a man… can defile him”?

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Some miss the point of the verses in Mark 7: 15–23 and apply them to the instructions of clean and unclean foods that were given in Leviticus 11. The subject here between Jesus and the Pharisees had nothing to do with the kind of food to be eaten, but only with the way in which it was to be eaten that is with or without the ceremonial hand washing (vs. 2, 3).

Jesus rejected the religious leaders’ traditions (Mark 7:3), and in these verses precisely the tradition that declared food eaten with hands improperly washed was defiling (v. 2). The religious leaders’ traditions were burden on the people. For according to Jewish traditions, even meat that was clean according to Leviticus 11 might still be considered unclean if it was touched by an unclean person (Mark 6:43).

In the OT, God clearly taught that He is not pleased with the dry forms of ceremonial worship (Isaiah 1:11–13; Micah 6:6–8) which were done to earn God’s acceptance. And in the NT, Christ stressed that moral defilement from breaking “the commandment of God” is of more importance than ritual defilement, especially when the latter was built on “the tradition of men” (vs. 7, 8). He said, defilement of the soul is a far more dangerous than ritual defilement of the body.

Jesus further explained, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23). In other words, eating with unwashed hands had no moral consequence upon men.

If Jesus at this incident had erased the difference between clean and unclean animals, Peter would not later have responded the way he did to the suggestion of eating unclean flesh foods saying, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (Acts 10:9 also vs. 18, 34; 11:5–18).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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