What did Jesus Mean, "purging all meats?" (Mark 7:19) 

by Peter Salemi

Many people believe that Jesus did away with the law of clean and unclean meats. People who believe in this cite the words of Christ in Mark the 7th chapter. But to simply lift a scripture out of the Bible and put your idea into it is not how we are to study scripture. First, Context IS KEY! Second, to compare scripture with scripture. Third, to search the scriptures to see whether these things are so. Did Christ really do away with clean and unclean meats? Was that even the subject? What kind of food was being eaten at this time when the Pharisees confronted Christ? The whole context of the subject must be read and studied to understand what Christ meant!

The Tradition of the Elders

As noted context is key to understanding what Christ meant. Beginning in verse one, the Gospel says, "Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem....And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault...For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders." (vv.1-2). Here is the context! The Pharisees found fault with the disciples because they should not eat food unless the wash their hands first "holding to the tradition of the elders." This does not mean that their hands had dirt on them and their hands needed to be clean; it was a ritual washing believing that their hands were defiled by sin. (explained below)

Let's begin with the food. Was the food unclean? No! It says, they "eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands" The food was not defiled, their HANDS WERE ACCORDING TO THE PHARISEES! If they were eating an unclean meat, the unclean animal would have been mentioned!  And, if you notice Peter years later said to Christ, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean." (Acts 10:14). So the food eaten here years before was not an unclean meat! (To know more about Acts 10 read our booklet The Saving Works of God for more details).

So the context is clear, they were eating food with defiled hands, not keeping the tradition of the Elders! Verse 4 becomes more specific about this tradition, "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, brazen vessels, and of tables." When the Jews goes to the "market" place do they go to buy unclean meats? No they do not! They buy kosher foods! But the Pharisees had a problem. This source writes: "In the market-place there would be every kind of men and things, clean and unclean, by contact with which they feared that they might be polluted; and so they considered that they had need to cleanse themselves from this impurity by a more careful and complete ablution." (Pulpit Commentary, emphasis added).

The source states, "And after market": after any common business, or attending a court of justice, where the Jews, as Webster and Wilkinson remark, after their subjection to the Romans, were especially exposed to intercourse and contact with heathens" (Jamieson Fausset and Brown Commentary, emphasis added). They felt that interaction with sinners especially the Romans who were heathen in religion, their defilements would defile them.

Gill's Commentary states, " 'if the Pharisees touched but the garments of the common people, they were defiled, all one as if they had touched a profluvious person, וצריכן טבילה, "and needed immersion;''' (emphasis added).

It went as far as even the pots, cups and vessels were defiled because they were handled by them in the market place due to the heathen being the merchants and traders selling these things to the Jews.

"He that buys a vessel for the use of a feast, of Gentiles, whether molten vessels, or glass vessels--Nlybjm, 'they dip them,' in the waters of the laver; and after that they may eat and drink in them: and such as they use for cold things, as 'cups', and 'pots', and 'jugs', they wash them, ומטבילן, 'and dip them', and they are free for use: and such as they use for hot things, as 'cauldrons' and 'kettles', ('brazen vessels',) they heat them with hot water, and scour them, ומטבילן, "and immerse them", and they are fit to be used: and things which they use at the fire, as spits and gridirons, they heat them in the fire till the crust (the covering of rust, or dirt) falls off, ומטבילן, 'and dip them', and they may be lawfully made use of. This is the immersion with which they immerse vessels for a feast, bought of Gentiles; and after that they are free for eating and drinking; for the business of uncleanness and purification is only from the words of the Scribes--and none are obliged to this immersion, but molten vessels for a feast, bought of Gentiles; but if he borrows of Gentiles, or a Gentile leaves in pawn molten vessels, (made of cast brass, or iron,) he washes, or boils, or heats in the fire, but need not immerse them; and so if he buys vessels of wood, or vessels of stone, he washes, or boils them, but need not dip them; and so earthen vessels need not be immersed; but those that are covered with lead, are as molten vessels, וצריכין טבילה, 'and need immersion'.''(emphasis added). They felt that the disciples, because they did not partake in this ritual washing before they ate their KOSHER FOOD, that they were defiled.

They asked Jesus again, "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?" (v.5). The context is clear!

Jesus answered them and notice this clear distinction Christ makes, "He answered and said unto 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. 

"Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 

"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. 

"And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Mark 7:6-9). Christ said that this tradition of washing your hands before you eat because you think that it will defile you spiritually, is not from God, and is not a commandment from GOD, but the commandments of MEN!

Eating clean and unclean meats however is a commandment from God himself, "And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,...Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth....This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:" (Lev 11:1-2, 46).

After this Jesus gives some examples of how their ways were, "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). F.F. Bruce comments on these verses stating, "Quoting against those who upheld it [traditions of men] Isa 29:13 (6,7), He contended that although it may have been propounded with the aim of helping people to observe the Mosaic Law, in many cases (13b) it lead people to disobey the law, and of this he provided an example [vv.10-13 for example]" (The International Bible Commentary, p.1165, emphasis added). So these traditions actually led people to BREAK GOD'S LAWS  not keeping them. It actually had the reverse effect as Christ said in verse 13.

How does eating with unwashen hands lead one to break the law of God?

Sin Cannot be Transferred

Christ was always obeying the law of God every little "jot" and "tittle" of the law he knew. Christ now shows the Pharisees how they are breaking the law of God with their tradition of unwashen hands, "...Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 

"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." (Mark 7:14, 15). What are the outside "things" that cannot defile a man?  The context was that the Pharisees believed that by touching a Heathen one can be defiled. Defilement meant being unclean by sin, and not holy, as God said "ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." (Lev 11:45).

Jesus points out where defilement comes from, "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 

"Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 

"All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." (vv.20-23). Notice, "evil things" from within defiles a man. So the "things" without are also "evil things." Sins that others have committed.

The Jews believed that one can become unclean by touching another person. This is nonsense and against what the law of God says! The New Bible Commentary articulates it perfectly, "...Most Jews thought of sin as a sort of germ, an infection caught by contact with others outside (This is roughly the Confucian view, shared by most non-Christian religions.) Jesus taught that sin was like a cancer, growing within us...That is far harder to deal with for we cannot avoid it by avoiding 'infection' from others it needs radical spiritual surgery  that will change our inner nature." (p.962, emphasis added).

God's law states, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deut 24:16). You cannot get some else's sins transferred to you. It is your choice whether to obey God or not; each individual is responsible for their actions (Deut 30:19).

Notice what Ezekiel says, "The soul [the person, the individual] that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (18:20). Individual responsibility for our own actions. The Jews did not believe that because they did not want to be responsible for their own actions, thus making God's law of "none effect." This belief led them to break the law of God, not keep it; of not being responsible for their actions and avoid this, "every man shall be put to death for his own sin."as the law says in Deuteronomy 24:16.

The Israelites in Ezekiel also did not want to take responsibility for their own actions.  "What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?" (Ezekiel 18:2), God asks. The Keil & Delitzsch commentary explains, "The origin of such a proverb is easily to be accounted for from the inclination of the natural man to transfer to others the guilt which has brought suffering upon himself...Nevertheless the proverb contained a most dangerous and fatal error...The proverb, on the other hand, teaches that the children would have to atone for their fathers' sins without any culpability of their own. " (emphasis added). The Israelites believed the sins of their fathers were transferred to them and that they should not suffer for other people's sins, playing the victim, basically saying they are innocent of sin, these are the sins of their fathers. The Pharisees believed this as well-sins can be transferred, and one can become defiled by others. Then when one stands before God can say to God "it's not my fault" and believe they have no accountability. "If I was infected by sin it was due to others not me." They thought they were pure and clean (Luke 18:11) and if sins got transferred to them, they just washed and the guilt would be gone, taking no responsibility of their own sins.

Israel even said to God, "Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?"  Israel thought their way was fair and God's way of individual responsibility, was not fair! But God says, "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin." (vv.29-30).

Purging all Meats?

Back to what Christ says about defilement, he explains, "...Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without [evil deeds done by others] entereth into the man [by the food touched by them], it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?"  Again these "things" are sins from other people that the Pharisees believed could be transferred to food, pots, clothing vessels etc...and they believed were defiled because the heathen touched them.

Christ said these things from without "cannot defile him" It cannot effect our spiritual life! Other People's sins, other peoples decisions [choice comes from the heart] to commit evil deeds cannot be transferred to these kosher foods and into our spiritual life. Why? "Because it entereth not into his heart [the place where the individual decides to either do good or evil], but into the belly," Sin is spiritual in nature! What goes into our stomach will not affect us spiritually. Sins come from a persons heart, from "within" (vv.21-23), it is not transferred by touch from without; sins are spiritual in nature, "For we know that the law is spiritual:" (Romans 7:14). So the food is undefiled and goes into the "belly." "This view of the Pharisees about defilement was crude and over-literal" (New Bible Commentary, p.962).

Now the famous scripture, "and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" Now Jesus said that foods go into the belly, "and goeth out into the draught." What does this mean? The word for "draught" is "aphedrōn" (Strong's #856). This means, "1) a place where the human waste discharges are dumped 1a) a privy, sink, toilet" (Thayer's). This is an absolute truth for all people!

Then it says, "purging all meats?" Now comes every interpretation from every single scholar in the world trying to interpret the text to mean that Jesus made all meats pure and doing away with the law of unclean and clean meats. Notice the New translations of the Bible:

  • because it goeth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the draught? This he said, making all meats clean. (ASV)

  • Because it goes not into the heart but into the stomach, and goes out with the waste? He said this, making all food clean. (BBE)

  • It doesn't go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body." By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat. (CEV)

  • Food does not go into a person's mind. It goes into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body." (When Jesus said this, he meant there is no food that is wrong for people to eat.) (ERV)

  • since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (ESV)

  • New International Version “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

  • New American Standard Bible “because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

I could go on, but the point is made. But there is a problem with these translations however. These try to interpret the text instead just translating the text.

Interestingly enough, the KJV does not contain this part, "This he said," or "declared" while many newer versions had this in brackets. The King James Version is “Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” Why didn’t the KJV, one of the earliest translations into English done in 1611, not contain this portion? And why do the newer versions carry it within brackets?

The Original Greek Manuscripts do not even carry “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)”.

We must cut through all the confusion and examine the original text to see what it really means.

First of all, the "majority of translations ...assume that Jesus finished speaking early, and that the remaining four words [Purging all meats (καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα)] of the original Mark 7:19 Greek verse are attributed to Mark's commentary, where he was annotating the Gospel text" (Eat Like Jesus, by Andrew L. Hoy, p.146, emphasis added). Did Mark add this to the text?

If you notice, the original text is four Greek words, but the newer "translations also seem to interject a sizable amount of translator commentary on what is assumed to be Mark's commentary. In fact, translations...use an average of Ten English words to replace the four words from the original Greek-compared to a humble average of four words per the translations...where all words [in the original Greek] are assumed to be a word for word continuation of Jesus' Teachings" (ibid, p.150, emphasis added). The original four Greek words show no indication that this was Mark commenting on what Jesus said, but was in fact Jesus saying, "purging all meats?"  It takes several words added by translators to try and interpret the text to mean all foods are pure but it's just not there!

Hoy continues, "...translations populate the conclusion of Mark 7:19 with superfluous verbs, subjects, objects, and adjectives, the texts begin to assume a host of different meaning" (ibid, p.150)

This source continues, "...it was fitting to exhibit the translation's dispensational bias present in Mark 7...In fact, many of the...dispensational slants are anything but original, as dispensational dogma and anti-kosher worldviews have been prevalent in Christianity and Bible versions prior to the NIV's inception" (ibid, p.142). With their preconceived ideas and beliefs, their biases and ideas, interpret the text to what they want it to say. They also transform and reconstruct the entire sentence to make into something that is just not there.

Hoy concludes, they "...transform the verb into an adjective, adding it to the end of the verse, and using it to describe the 'food' subsequent to the digestion. Also, in the place of the 'cleansing' verb, most of the ...translations insert the verb 'declared' or 'made' in its place, along with 'Jesus' as the subject of conversation. Even though 'Jesus declared' does not appear in the original Greek, these words are nevertheless routinely added within these creative...interpretations and translations, implying that Mark was invoking Jesus' authority or power to redefine or transform all foods to be 'clean' as he commented on Jesus' earlier words-supposedly clarifying what Jesus really intended to convey" (ibid, p.150, emphasis added). But again, the original text does not say anything of the kind.

Clearly Christ said these words; so what did he mean, "purging all meats?"

The way the sentence is constructed in the original has, "...the digestive tract as the subject performing a function like 'cleansing' or 'purging' as the lone Greek καθαρίζω (katharizō) action verb should imply...[the] purging which is best representative of the context discussing the human digestive process...[the modern translators are] forgetting that earlier in the verse, Jesus was concluding his description of a bodily waste handling process, alluding to the latrine of the process of expelling unclean human defecation..." (pp.150,  146, 151, emphasis added). The context of the latter end of the verse is eliminating foods from the body into the latrines. The "purging" is the verb describing the action of the context, "but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught"-that is the context! To conclude, the full meaning of what Jesus meant was, "Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats [out of the body]" The subject was not whether Jesus declared all foods clean, and that people can eat whatever they wish, this was never the subject!

Can One be Defiled by Eating Unclean Meats?

How does one become defiled by eating unclean meats? Let's begin with God straight out saying, "For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Lev 11:44). God says one can be defiled by this. God continues to says, "To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten." (Lev 11:47). God says that there is a difference between the clean and unclean; and if believers do not recognize that difference, then we have violated his law which is sin (1 John 3:4).

God says, "Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them." (Ezekiel 22:26). God says there is a difference between the clean and unclean, and if we do not recognize that difference then we "violate" his law, and sin therefore defiled. But it goes further than this.

People who do not obey the law of clean and unclean meats are those who do not want to obey God. As Jesus said, "That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders

"Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 

"All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23). What are all these violations listed? The law of God being broken, Sin, and "Sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4). Jesus said we are defiled breaking the law of God, by the decisions we make in our hearts to either obey or not to obey the law of God which the law of unclean and clean meats is apart of.

Notice one of those violations listed by Christ is "murder." Eating unclean meats is also linked to breaking the commandment against murder! Suicide, killing oneself, eating poison etc..., is a form of murder, “And when you put into your stomach all kinds of foul things which the Great Architect who designed your human mechanism never intended, you foul up your body and bring on sickness, disease, aches, pains, a dulled and clogged up mind, inefficiency and inability and you commit suicide on the installment plan by actually shortening your life!" (Is All Animal Flesh Good Food?, page 1., HWA). Jesus said that sin and sickness are linked together. When they brought him the man "sick of the palsy" Jesus said to him, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." (Matthew 9:1, 2). Disease, sickness, kills human life; doing it to yourself by eating unclean meats is murder. This is how one become defiled by eating unclean meats! This is disobedience to God's law-committing murder to yourself!

Our bodies are to be taken care of. What we are dealing with is human life, our own. If we “dishonor” our own bodies (Rom 1:24), and that our God is “our belly” (Philippians 3:19), we are committing murder, and Idolatry, which the bible says people who commit such things, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

If we who “... are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinth 3:16-17). We have to keep ourselves “holy.” and not "defile" (Lev 11:44) our bodies with unclean meats and murder ourselves!

In the end God says, "They that sanctify themselves [see Lev 11:44], and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD." (Isaiah 66:17). The Lake of Fire awaits those who do not obey God!