Thus He Declared All Food Clean
There is a phrase found in Mark 7:19 which is often placed in parentheses and presents some difficulties. This phrase is especially noted by those who hold to the theology of Torahism, which teaches that Christians are required to keep the Law of Moses, including the kosher food laws. The difficulties in this verse were outlined quite well by one of the viewers on my YouTube channel. Here’s how he put it:
Deuteronomy 13:5 explains that if anyone leads the Israelites to disobey any of the commands that God gave to them, they are to be put to death. As Christians accept as fact that Jesus never transgressed any of the law, then this creates a problem for all of Christianity when we accept that in Mark 7:19 “Jesus declared all foods clean,” or told His Israelite disciples that they may transgress the food laws.Comment on the YouTube video “Do the kosher food laws apply to Christians?” by Sip & Synoptics (11/16/21)
Looking into the Greek, I have noted that there are no textual variants there, and when comparing this passage with other translations, I have seen that the NKJV renders it in this way: “because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” in red letters.
This leaves us with a very concerning issue. Either we have to admit that Jesus went against the law or that the translators might have taken too much liberty there. (Or that perhaps something else happened and not a cancellation of the food laws) Also, if you hold to the view that Jesus fulfilled the law at the cross, how could He have fulfilled the food laws at that point in the redemption story prior to the cross?
For these reasons I feel like we are forced to reject this translational rendering and I personally back it up with the conclusion of the parallel event in Matthew 15:20 “These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” This shows that Jesus was refuting the traditions.
This user raises some excellent points about the very real difficulties in Mark 7:19. And he presents an interesting dilemma. What are we to make of the phrase “thus he declared all foods clean” (or in the NKJV, “thus purifying all foods”)? He suggests “we are forced to reject this translational rendering,” but it is not clear what is meant by “this translational rendering.” All translations of Mark 7:19 include the phrase about all foods being declared clean or purified. The debate between translations is not whether that phrase is part of Scripture, but whether it was uttered by Jesus or was a comment added by the author. The footnote in the NKJV says that the NU manuscript “sets off the final phrase as Mark’s comment that Jesus has declared all foods clean.” (NU refers to the Novum Testamentum Graece, which is an edition of the New Testament in its original Koine Greek that forms the basis of most modern Bible translations and biblical criticism.)
And here it’s worth pointing out that none of the “red words” in the Bible are the actual words of Jesus. First, because Jesus didn’t speak English. And second, because writers in antiquity made no attempt to capture exact quotes, nor were they expected to by their contemporary readers. (Quotation marks did not even exist in Hebrew or Koine Greek.) The words of Jesus, like all cited words in antiquity, were gisted summaries of what He said.
While I respectfully disagree with this user’s characterization of Deut 13:5, his dilemma still stands: How could Jesus teach that all foods are clean and not be encouraging His audience to violate the kosher food laws which were still in effect? He concluded, “either we have to admit that Jesus went against the law or that the translators might have taken too much liberty there. (Or that perhaps something else happened and not a cancellation of the food laws).”
I would like to suggest that there is another valid conclusion available to us. Since the gospel of Mark was not composed until decades after Jesus’ resurrection, the phrase in question can be characterized as an anachronistic addition of the author. By the time this gospel was written, all foods were understood by the apostles and NT authors to be clean. As such, the phrase “thus he declared all foods clean” (or “thus purifying all foods” in the NKJV), is attributed to the author of the Gospel, not Jesus. It is a summary of what Jesus explained to His disciples in private (v. 17-23), after first teaching it publicly (v. 14-15). Thus, that statement remains (a.) consistent with the rest of the NT’s teaching on clean foods, and (b.) a part of Holy Scripture not to be rejected.
Furthermore, we should consider that God’s timing as revealed in Scripture is not as literal or “black and white” as man’s timing. For example, in the garden, Adam was told that when he ate from the forbidden tree he would surely die (Gen 2:16-17). But Adam did not immediately die after eating from the tree. Instead, he was banished from the garden and his death did not occur until centuries later (Gen 5:5). Likewise, in Exodus, God began giving commandments to Israel (ex. Passover, the Sabbath) and requiring their obedience even before they arrived at Mount Sinai and were given the Law. Israel was punished for worshipping the golden calf before they were officially given the Law that forbids the worship of idols. So it seems the Law was not given at a single specific time, as we see today with the dropping of a judge’s gavel. This “graduated timing” is also reflected in the fact that Israel was “given” the promised land as part of the Sinai Covenant, yet it would be forty years before they actually took possession of it. We also see it in the inaugurated eschatology of the New Testament where Jesus teaches about the “already, not yet” nature of His kingdom. While the new kingdom began with the arrival of Christ, it will not be complete until His second return. This timing is again evident in the NT declaration that the Sinai Covenant had ended. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13). The phrases used here were not a declaration of immediate change, but rather a graduated process.
Based on this biblical pattern, I think it’s no coincidence that forty years elapsed between Jesus’ inauguration of the New Covenant and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, an event that eliminated Israel’s ability to truly keep the Law of Moses. And the temple remains destroyed to this day. During those forty-or-so years, the old system was winding down as the new system was starting up. And if we view the teachings of Jesus in Mark 7 against that timeline, we note they occurred at the very beginning of this “cross-fade” between the two systems.
Therefore, I think it’s both reasonable and biblical to suggest the following explanation for the dilemma before us: Jesus taught that all foods are clean and, as God incarnate, all foods became clean at His word. Thus, any of His listeners who decided to begin eating previously unkosher foods at that time would not have been in violation of the Law. They would have been acting within a divine, graduated era of change. And despite His declaration about food, Jesus chose to keep the kosher dietary restrictions so that He could complete His earthly life in perfect obedience to the Law. Thus, He remained sinless under the law.