Did Jesus declare all foods clean?

Did Jesus declare all foods clean? July 12, 2016

That’s what Mark 7.19b says in most translations: “Thus he declared all foods clean” (ESV & NASB).  The New Living Translation renders it as follows: “By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.”

Just before this Jesus had asked, “Don’t you know that everything from the outside which goes into a man is not able to make him unclean?  Because it does not go into his heart but into his stomach.  Then it goes out of him into the sewer.”  (my trans. from the Greek)

This has enormous implications for our understanding of Jesus.  Most interpreters have said that Jesus was saying here that he dispensed with the laws of kashrut or kosher.  Which means he said the Law of Moses was no longer binding.  Which means he was departing from the Judaism of his day.  Which means that he was starting a new religion, essentially different from first-century Judaism.

This has been the majority view of most interpreters from the mid-second century to the present.  It has started to break down only since the Holocaust, and only in part.

Today I am starting a series that will look  carefully at this whole passage in Mark 7, because it has been the linchpin for mountains of books and thousands of sermons over the millennia that claim Jesus rejected the law of Moses, and therefore was starting all over with a new religion that broke from Judaism.

I will argue that Jesus was NOT dispensing with kosher here, he was NOT signalling a break from first-century Judaism or the Law of Moses, and he was NOT starting a new religion that was fundamentally different from Judaism.

Let’s start with a few hermeneutical observations.  Hermeneutics means interpretation, so in the next few days we will look more broadly at other parts of the NT and OT that will help us interpret this passage in Mark 7.  More specifically, we will see that other parts of the NT pose problems for the traditional interpretation.  Let me pose a few of these problems, and the first one today.

  1. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that he would never depart from the least stroke of Moses’ pen in Moses’ law (Torah): Don’t think that I have come to abolish the law (of Moses) or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish but to fulfill (the Greek word here renders a Hebrew word that means to “properly interpret”) which is probably what Paul meant by the law of Christ (1 Cor 9.21)–the law of Moses put into its messianic light by the messiah (Christ), thus Christ properly interpreting the law.  Truly I say to you, until the heaven and the earth pass away, not one iota (the smallest letter in Greek) or one horn (the smallest stroke of the pen in Hebrew) will pass away from the (Mosaic) Law until all things (in it) take place.  Whoever looses one of the least of these commandments and teaches men to do the same, he will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens. But whoever practices and teaches (the commandments of the Law), he will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.
  2. It was fundamental for all Jews in Jesus’ day that the laws of kosher in Lev 11 and Dt 14 were commands from God for Jews (not for Gentiles).  The clear implication of Jesus’ words in Matt 5 is that even these kosher commandments are from God, and are not to be broken.  They might be among the least of the commandments, but they are to be practiced and taught nonetheless.
  3. If Jesus meant in Mk 7.19b that he was dispensing with the kosher commandments in Moses’ law, then he was contradicting what he had said in Matt. 5.
  4. This is a hermeneutical problem.
    1. If Scripture is inspired and Jesus always told the truth, then either my interpretation of Matt 5 is wrong, or the traditional interpretation of Mk 7.19b is flawed.
    2. Most scholars agree with my interpretation of Matt 5.  Some think Jesus didn’t say these words and the early church made them up, but they agree that this is the meaning of the words in Matt 5.
    3. I trust that you can see that this suggests that, at the very least, the traditional interpretation of Mark 7.19b might need further scrutiny.
    4. We will continue this tomorrow.

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