Saturday, August 04, 2007

Doesn't Yeshua declare all meats clean in Mark 7?

Doesn't Yeshua declare all meats clean in Mark 7?

This article is provided by Assoc. Rabbi Michael.

Mark 7:18-19 reads in the NASB,

And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

This passage is one of those that I believe the NASB has gotten completely wrong. First, notice the italicized words above-this is the NASB's (and many other translations') way of telling you that theses words are completely interpolated by the translators; that is, they do not appear in the original Greek. Moreover, the word "declared" does not appear in the original Greek either; rather, the literal translation is, "because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats" (Young's Literal Translation).

On what basis can we say that a command of Torah has been done away with when we have to interpolate a whole clause into the sentence in order to do so? That would be like someone translating Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be that we fail to! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" No honest Biblical scholar would let such a translation stand unchallenged, let alone admit the validity of an exegesis made upon it!

Interestingly, the Complete Jewish Bible agrees with the NASB reading here, translating the end of the verse as a parenthetical, "(Thus he declared all foods ritually clean.) " Stern is clear in his translation, however that the subject is not kosher, but rather "ritual purity as taught by the Oral Torah in relation to n'tiat-yadayim"-that is, ritual hand-washing, per vv. 2-4-"not kashrut at all!"[7] Since the subject of whether kosher had been annulled never even comes up, we perform eisegesis (reading our own opinions back into the text) not exegesis when we use this verse as justification for rejecting kosher.

Stern summarizes Yeshua's intent as follows:

Yeshua is continuing his discussion of spiritual prioritizing (v. 11&N). He teaches that tohar (purity) is not primarily ritual or physical, but spiritual (vv. 14-23). On this ground he does not entirely overrule the Pharisaic/rabbinic elaborations of the laws of purity, but he does demote them to subsidiary importance. . . Yeshua here is making Messianic halakha.

This interpretation follows Matthew's rendering of the conclusion, which is to say that "to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man" (Mat. 15:20).

Why then does Stern follow the practice of interpolating "Thus he declared" into the text? He writes that he believes the "one meaning this passage can have" is that "it is Mark's halakhic summary of Yeshua's remarks." He admits, however, that many hold to the interpretation that we favor here. I would argue that our interpretation holds more firmly to the text.

Some may object that I have thus far cited only one Messianic commentator. Such people would be surprised to learn that many Christian commentators have come to similar conclusions:

The word "purging," here, means to purify, to cleanse. What is thrown out of the body is the innutritious part of the food taken into the stomach, and leaving only that which is proper for the support of life; and it cannot, therefore, defile the soul.[8]

and goeth into the draught; בית הכסא, "the private house", as the Jews call it, without going into the heart at all:

purging all meats; that which it leaves behind, is pure and nourishing; and whatever is gross and impure, is carried with it into the draught, so that nothing remains in the man that is defiling.[9]

Now, the meats are all purged out of your body; they don't defile you in a spiritual sense. And of course, we're talking about ceremonial washing. The meat that you eat doesn't defile you. Now, it can make you sick or it can do things, but spiritually it doesn't defile you. There's no spiritual defilement in it, because it passes through your body.[10]

Note that none of the above commentators remark at all on kosher, but understand that the passage is dealing with "ceremonial washing." Indeed, some Christian commentators utterly refute the idea that this passage abrogates kosher:

Of course, Jesus did not mean at this time to abrogate the Mosaic law of legal uncleanness. These uncleannesses worked no spiritual defilement, but were merely typical of such; for the food in no way touched or affected the mind or soul, the fountains of spiritual life, but only the corporeal organs, which have no moral susceptibility. The Pharisees had erred in confusing legal and spiritual defilement, and had added error to error by multiplying the causes of defilement in their tradition. By thus showing that legal defilement was merely symbolic, Jesus classed it with all the other symbolism which was to be done away with when the gospel reality was fully ushered in (Col. 2:16-17). In saying, therefore, that Jesus made all meats clean, Mark does not mean that Jesus then and there repealed the law.[11]

To be sure, there are also many commentaries that do see in this passage the end to the kosher laws. However, given the universal (among Christians) belief that kosher is no longer valid, it is surprising to find so many sources failing to find their justification here. Indeed, seeking to find justification for an end to kosher puts Yeshua in the role of having a double-standard, as Fisher explains:

Many have interpreted the next section, Mark 7:17-19, to mean that Yeshua set aside the food laws. But by doing so he would have contradicted himself. His detractors had just accused him of not observing their traditions, and he had responded that they did far worse; they did not observe the commandments of the Torah (vv. 9-13). To choose this time to set aside other commandments of the Torah would have undercut his whole response. It would have left him open to the charge they made, and which he implicitly denied. It would also have shown him to be inconsistent.[12]

It also would have left Him subject to a charge of being a false prophet, based on Deu. 12:32-13:5 (see here). Indeed, if He had been teaching His disciples not to keep any part of the Torah, His enemies could hardly have missed the opportunity to bring that up at His trial! It would have negated the whole need for false witnesses!

So then, we return to the following key facts about this passage:

1. There is little to no justification for interpolating in the words, "Thus He declared" into v. 19.
2. Regardless of the translation one prefers, the subject of whether non-kosher meats, like pork, were now allowed never even came up.
3. Even many Christian commentators admit that there is no justification for overturning kosher in this passage.
4. The anti-Torah interpretation makes Messiah out to be double-minded, castigating the Pharisees for annulling a direct commandment of Torah by their tradition in one breath, and annulling a direct commandment of Torah Himself in the very next!


The command to discern between the clean and the unclean meats is a direct commandment of Scripture (Lev. 11:47). Against this very clear commandment, Christian commentators have three passages which are propertied negate it; Romans 14, Acts 10, and Mark 7. Romans 14, we have proven elsewhere, does not refer to kosher, and neither does Mark 7. The vision of Acts 10 uses non-kosher meats as a symbol of the Gentiles, to prepare Peter to accept Cornelius and his house as full brothers in the L-rd, as Peter himself interpreted it. Where then do we find any Scripture which negates the Torah on this matter?

Nowhere. The simple fact is that while one can make a case that Gentile believers are not required to keep kosher from the Torah itself (as explained at the beginning of this article), there is nowhere in Scripture that either releases Jewish believers from the command or which discourages Gentiles from joining them in keeping it, provided they do so with the right heart.

Shalom - Rabbi Gavri'el
To read the complete article and footnotes, click here!

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