Reconciling Torah and Clean Foods
NCW 75, April-June 2002
Q. Yah'shua says in Matthew 5:17 that he has not come to abolish Torah and yet in Mark 7:19 says that all foods are now clean. Isn't that a contradiction? And how do you reconcile them?
A. The issue being addressed in the Marcan account is not clean vs. unclean foods but the validity of the ritual washing of hands before meals which had become mandatory through the Talmud. Yah'shua (Jesus) here is dealing with the issue of purity, showing that it is not primarily physical but spiritual.
Yah'shua (Jesus) did not come to abolish Torah but to bring it completion and to interpret it more correctly, which the Talmudists had manifestly failed to do. He addressed a similar issue in regard to Sabbath observance. Seen in the context of the spiritual dynamic of Matthew 21:28-32, which is the Parable of the Two Sons, I would suggest that the point Yah'shua (Jesus) is trying to make is that the bottom line is the condition of our heart and not outward things. Whilst this is not to say that outward practices are unimportant, it is to say that in the New Covenant the spiritual purity of our hearts is what counts above all else. A pure heart will observe outer purity as best it can, in grateful obedience to the Creator, but realise that Israel's dietary laws were made for man and not the other way round.
Remember also this: that Yah'shua (Jesus) never broke Torah (if He had, or had taught His disciples to, He would have failed in His mission to be perfectly obedient to it and become the first perfect man ... a condition required to become our propitiation for sin). To claim that He overturned Israel's dietary laws would have made Him not only anti-Torah but as a failure too.
Finally, there is the ubiquitous translation problem, for all translations are biased by the eyes which read the receptor tongue, especially when they have doctrinal axes to grind. To understand anything Yah'shua (Jesus) said means seeing through the lenses of the Torah (Law of Moses), for nothing else existed at that time.
What is said in Greek in Mk.7:19 varies with some versions (like the Living Bible and the Standard Version, but not with the KJV). It says in Greek: kataríxon pánta ta bdómata, which is translated into English as "purging all foods." Webster´s New World Dictionary, p. 603 gives the following definition of "to purge": "5. In Medicine, to move your bowels." Thus, what the Yah'shua (Jesus) really said was "moving your bowels you get rid of all foods." This is quite different from the more "liberal" translations such as "making all foods clean" which reflect Protestant and Catholic thinking. Accordingly we are not surprised when we consult the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts to find:
"...Do you not know that a thing that enters a son of man from the outside cannot defile him because it does not enter his heart but his belly, and is thrown away and cleansed, even all food" (alt. "and is cast off by excretion, which purifies all the food") (Mk.7:19, HRV).
As ever, we must seek the harmony of Scripture. This the Hebrew/Aramaic MSS do, showing once again the problems we have with the Greek translations sometimes.
All food is certainly clean. There is no dispute about that. But remember also that as far as Yahweh is concerned, and as far as Torah-observant disciples are concerned, rats, cats, pigs, dogs, cockroaches, crabs, lobsters, and the like are not food! Leviticus 11 tells us what food is and what food is not.
Let us therefore cleanse our hearts if sinful attitudes and be wise in eating that which Yahweh says is food and eschewing that which He says is not. What kind of a heart, do you think, would claim to be pure and yet wilfully violates Yahweh's commandments? Heart-purity is the issue, but there are physical ramifications, because to the Hebrew a person is one complete being, and not a collection of parts (mind, heart, body, spirit, soul, or whatever). The point of the Marcan discourse is that no pure (edible) food is rendered impure by being handled with (according to the Talmud) ritually unclean hands. The food is pure because Yahweh says it is and for no other reason.
By way of a footnote I need to add this too: if Yah'shua had declared all food clean then the vision of Peter in Acts 10 would be meaningless. Yet what was the apostle's reaction? He initially misinterpreted the vision, mind you, which was about the ritual purity of the Gentiles, which he did not at that time understand and which the vision was explaining to him.
The Pharisees' teaching on this issue derives from their idea -- actually, a lovely idea, in my opinion -- that every Jewish family home was a mirror of the Holy Temple, and that every Jewish head of household was, in effect, a sort of priest for his family, an idea which exactly agrees with family patriarchy. Thus, just as the priests in the Temple would defile an offering if they handled it without having undergone the required "baptism" (ceremonial washing), so the individual Jew would defile the 'offering' (family meal) through handling it with unwashed hands. Yah'shua (Jesus) was saying no -- no [kosher] food, through being handled with unwashed hands, defiles the one eating it; rather, the individual is defiled -- at a more profound, spiritual level -- by harbouring within his heart ungodly attitudes.
This page was created on 16 June 2004
Last updated on 16 June 2004
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