Did Jesus Do Away With The Clean vs. Unclean Law?

By Hermanus W. Smeenk

    Someone told me the other day that, while visiting a friend she was asked if she wanted to stay for a ham dinner. She explained that she couldn't eat their ham because the bible forbade the eating of pork. The father of the friend told her that it was alright to eat pork since in Mark 7 Jesus said that all meats could be eaten because they did not defile the body. She asked if Mark 7 really did allow one to eat pork as her friend's father stated. Let's see what (according to the King James version of the bible) precisely was said by Jesus in Mark 7. I present three different versions of the same event, one from Mark 7 in the King James Version, one from Matthew 15 in the King James version, and one from Mark 7 in the New King James Version. Each version provides specific details that provides us with a greater understanding of the event recorded in Mark 7.

Mark 7:1-23 - Clean and Unclean
    1  Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2  And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3  For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4  And when they come from the market,except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5 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? 6 He answered and said to them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups, and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses saith, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:  11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest profit by me; he shall be free.  12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother.  13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered; and many such things do ye.  14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said to them, Hearken unto me, every one of you, and understand; 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; 19  Because it entereth not into his heart but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? [the original Greek word for meats is Broma meaning that which is eaten, food][from Strong's 1033] 20 And he said, That which cometh out of a man, that defileth the man.  21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousnous, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

    A companion scripture to the event recorded in Mark 7 can be found in Matthew 15 in which Matthew provides us with some additional details and gives us greater insight in the words uttered Jesus during this event:

Matthew 15:1-20 - Clean and Unclean
1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" 3 Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6 he is not to 'honor his father ' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" 13 He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." 15 Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." 16 "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. 17 "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'"

    In the New King James Version, which translates the bible in a more modern English rather than the archaic English of the King James Version, we can obtain additional understanding concerning about this dialog between the Pharisees and Jesus.

Mark 7:1-23 - Defilement Comes From Within:  Jesus Rebukes the Pharisees' Traditions
1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. 2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" 6 He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men --the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." 9 He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother'; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' 11 But you say, "If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"--' (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do." 14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 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. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" 17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

    After reading the three versions of the same event described by Mark and Matthew, we can understand that the context of the event is about the tradition of the elders concerning the many required washings before eating as put forward by the Pharisees and the more important spiritual application of man's defilement (requiring the washing of all evil thoughts and intentions out of the mind) taught by Jesus. Jesus once again takes the Pharisees to task concerning their misplaced emphasis on the importance of abiding by the traditions of the fathers--the washing of the hands, pots, pans, cups, pitchers, etc.--before eating. Jesus calls them "hypocrites" because they place more importance on their traditions than they do on the law of Moses. He explains to his disciples that it is far more important to emphasize the cleaning up of one's mind which is the spiritual application of cleanliness.

    Likewise, the people who profess Christianity as their religion but do not practice the laws of Moses also place more emphasis on their bodily appetites rather than on the spiritual applications of the laws. People go out of their way to look for a few verses that will seem to support their contention that the law of clean and unclean foods have been done away. For example, in the situation presented in the first paragraph above, the father of the friend has interpreted Mark 7 to support his belief that its alright now to eat pork and all the other meats that the law of Moses clearly condemns as unclean and are not to be eaten. The father relies wholly on Mark 7:19 which states in the New King James Version "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods."  He reasons thus, "If Jesus declared all foods "clean" that means we can eat whatever we want, right?" But does it?

    What was it that we learned from the event recorded by Mark and Matthew? The context of the section has to do with the washing of hands, etc., the following of the traditions of men. Jesus addressed this by telling the Pharisees that they had misplaced their priorities and should have concentrated on the cleaning of the mind instead of the body. It is the things of the mind, Jesus told them, that defile the body, that need to be cleaned up, not as much as some dirt on someone's hands. The body will cleanse the food and remove any dirt that may be swallowed along with it by the ultimate elimination of it, so don't worry about that.

    When viewed in the proper context you can see that nothing in the description of this event was mentioned that eating unclean animals did not defile the body. God's laws do not change! Jesus never taught that any of God's laws only applied to Israel (including the Jews)and not to anyone else. But what did God (who later became Jesus Christ) tell Israel in the desert? In Leviticus 11:44-47 God tells Israel, 44 "For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 45 For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. 46 "This is the law of the animals and the birds and every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on the earth, 44 to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten."' This sentence also distinguishes between what the bible says that food is for the Israelites and what is not considered to be food.  Food is that which God has pronounced to be clean, anything else is not considered to be food. This is also what Mark 7:19 assumes, for to a Jew anything but that which God has pronounced clean is not food. Those who are not aware of this have a totally different concept of the definition for food. They consider almost anything that moves to be food, and that is the reason why they misinterpret Mark 7:19 claiming that Jesus did away with the law of clean and unclean foods.

    The purpose of the law of the clean and unclean meats that was given to Israel by God was because He wanted them to be holy even as He is also holy. Many other laws were also given to Israel to help them to remain holy because there are many situations in which people can become unclean and, therefore, not holy.  Israel was destined to be a people set apart from the nations to set an example for them of how God wanted to be worshiped and what God expected of them. Is God no longer interested in expecting his people to be holy? Were all the other laws concerning the clean and unclean conditions of people also "done away"? What does God say in Malachi 3:6? "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." If God changed the law of the clean and unclean conditions, and if God wants people to be like Him, does that mean that God has also stopped being holy?

No - Because God Does Not Change.

If Jesus changed the law of clean and unclean foods, that would mean that the original purpose for them, holiness, was no longer required. Then we can also accuse God of BEING A LIAR, because God does change, contrary to His claim that He does not change.


What does Paul say in Romans 3:4? "God forbid: yea, LET GOD BE TRUE, BUT EVERY MAN A LIAR; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged."

Yet, the "Christian" world claims that God did change and did away with the laws of the "Old Testament". The "Old Testament" laws, they claim, only apply to the Jews, but we, we live under the laws of the "New Testament", of grace, of justification, and of salvation. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, they say, we are saved. Once saved, always saved.

Would God have one set of laws for one people and another set for another people?


Would God allow one set of people to do something that He forbade another to do?

Does God change after all?

Are we dealing with a wishy-washy God who can't make up his mind what laws to give to whom?

Or are there two Gods, each of whom has His own laws applicable to His own people?

 No, because God told Moses in in Numbers 15:14-16,  "14And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whosoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord; as ye do, so he shall do. 15One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations; as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. 16 One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you."

 Did you catch that? One law for both Israel and any strangers (aliens or immigrants) forever. Not until the Messiah comes when the law will be changed, but FOREVER, FOR ALL YOUR GENERATIONS. Where then is the proof that the law under the "Old Testament" applied only to the Jews while the law expounded in the "New Testament" was for the "Christians"?


 If anyone believes that any changes appear to exist in the "New Testament", that individual needs to revise his/her thinking because the only contradictions in the bible are those that contradict people's preconceived notions of what the bible tells them.

 Some "Christians" point to the vision by Peter of the sheet full of unclean animals lowered from heaven and a voice that commanded him to kill and eat. The voice told Peter that what God has cleaned Peter should not call unclean. Therefore, they claim that God has cleaned the unclean animals and it is now alright to eat them. But is this what the purpose and meaning was of the vision? Let Peter, himself give us the answer to that question. In Acts 11 Peter explains his vision to the brethren as follows:

Acts 11:1-18 Peter's Vision - Peter Explains His Actions
1 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3  and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4  Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: 5  "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6  I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7  Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' 8  "I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9  "The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' 10  This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again. 11  "Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12  The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. 13  He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14  He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' 15  "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" 18  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."

 If Jesus had indeed done away with the law for clean and unclean foods in Mark 7, would Peter have had this problem with killing and eating the unclean animals in the vision? Of course not, he would have been helping himself to swine's flesh and all the other animals, fishes, and birds that God had declared to be unclean in the law of Moses.   Peter explained the meaning of the vision to the brethren that God also wanted them to preach to and baptize the Gentiles.   Notice that he did not say, &quoteAnd by the way, God also told me we could start eating the unclean animals too." Many individuals claim that was the meaning of the vision.  They are living proof that God blinds those individuals whom He has not called and who refuse to obey His laws, commandments, statutes, judgments and ordinances.   Those people are left to wrestle with the meaning of the scriptures, ever learning, but never arriving at the truth. The scriptures have become a snare to them and they are trapped in their own interpretations of them.  But...they, too, when the time has come, shall have their eyes opened and ears unstopped so that they'll be able to hear and see and understand.


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