Did Yeshua pronounce all foods clean?
To eat, or not to eat... Part 2
When the issue of dietary law comes up, another common rebuttal that Christians use comes from the gospel of Mark where early on in Yeshua's ministry, he supposedly pronounced all foods clean. I have yet to hear any Christian theologian even try to explain how it works that Yeshua could simply make a declaration nullifying even a part of the law of Moses at this point in his life, when according to Pauline doctrine, the law of Moses wasn't abolished until Yeshua was crucified! But, having noted that, I'll humor the notion and address the passage anyway. This passage from Mark is always quoted from accommodating translations. And for this article, when I quote a Bible passage, I will print Yeshua's words in red as they would be found in a red letter edition Bible of that particular translation. This will help to demonstrate some of the differences in the translations. Here are two popular translations of that passage.
"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this. Jesus declared all foods "clean.") Mark 7:18-20 NIV
He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:18-20 NRSV
According to these passages, it appears evident that Yeshua has indeed pronounced all foods clean! But occasionally these translations aren't quite good enough and someone will pull out the big guns and quote the Amplified Bible.
And He said to them, Then are you also unintelligent and dull and without understanding? Do you not discern and see that whatever goes into a man from the outside cannot make him unhallowed or unclean, since it does not reach and enter his heart but [only his] digestive tract, and so passes on [into the place designed to receive waste]? Thus He was making and declaring all foods [ceremonially] clean [that is, abolishing the ceremonial distinctions of the Levitical Law]. Mark 7:18-20 Amplified
Wow! This one not only does away with dietary law, it appears Yeshua did away with all the Levitical law too!
In all of these and many similar translations, it is rendered that the author of the book makes the personal observation and commentary that Yeshua had declared all foods clean. Now if these were accurate translations, one might expect me to brush the passage off as not being the inerrant words of Yeshua, but the erroneous personal commentary of Mark. As I have shown before, Gospel authors are known to make the occasionally error in their own personal observations. But this is not the problem here. Christian Bible translators make the error in translation and the mistake in assuming these words are the words of Mark. They are not. They are Yeshua's words and they are not even close to what is found in the Greek text. They are significantly embellished by all, especially by the Amplified Bible translators. There is no word in the Greek text that can be translated "declared". This is not a problem of mistranslating a single word. The word simply doesn't exist! It was added, along with other words that can't be found in the Greek manuscripts. And there is nothing even remotely close to the Amplified Bible's rendering found in the Greek. The practice of adding words to what is actually found in the ancient manuscripts for the purpose of clarifying things for English speaking people is not a bad thing in itself. Sometimes it's necessary. But it should be clearly understood that when it is done, it is subject to error, and the interpretation and doctrinal presuppositions of the translator. I will also be adding a few necessary qualifying words to this same somewhat difficult text to help us understand what Yeshua was really saying. I will be adding less than other translators have added, (far less than the Amplified!) and I will show that my interpretation fits far better in context with what Yeshua did say both locally and in other places. It will become apparent that the translators responsible for these type of renderings were desperately attempting to find in Yeshua's words some morsel of support for Pauline based Christian doctrine.
First I would like to quote a translation that is as close to word for word as can be rendered. It is the King James II Version, and it comes from the side column of my Greek interlinear Bible were every word can be verified.
And he said to them, "Are you also so undiscerning? Do you not perceive that everything that enters from the outside into the man is not able to defile him? This is because it does not enter into his heart but into the belly, and goes out into the waste-bowl, purging all the foods." Mark 7:18-20
And here is the same passage from the old KJV and the NKJV. Notice how much closer they are to the above translation.
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; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" Mark 7:18-20 KJV
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, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" Mark 7:18-20 NKJV
The first thing that everyone should notice is that in these translations, Mark makes no commentary, and the words, "purging all the foods" are part of Yeshua's ongoing sentence. Notice also that there are no more than four words in what has been translated by others as Mark's significantly longer commentary! These four words, "purging all the foods" are the literal word for word translation of the four Greek words used. It is astounding to think that Christian translators have managed to turn these four simple words into Mark's commentary that Yeshua had made some kind of declaration.
If there are any qualifying words that should be added to Yeshua's to help better understand what he truly meant, the following should be self-evident. (Additions are in blue)
And he said to them, "Are you also so undiscerning? Do you not perceive that everything that enters from the outside into a man is not able to defile him permanently, or to the degree that sin defiles a man? This is because it does not enter his heart but his belly, and goes out into the waste-bowl thus purging all the clean and unclean foods from the body. And he said, "What comes out of a man, that is what seriously defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murder, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and seriously defile a man." Mark 7:18-23
The point Yeshua is making is of the more serious degree of defiling that sin causes compared to eating unclean food. He had been laying into the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in straining at a gnat while inhaling a camel again. They were getting all bent out of shape over Yeshua's disciples not washing their hands before they ate. It should also be noted that in the entire context of this debate between Yeshua and the Pharisees, the subject matter at hand was food of any kind, not just meat, being defiled by unwashed hands. Nowhere in this context is there the mention of unclean animal meat like pig flesh! Please read the entire story from Mark 7:1-23 and see for yourself.
In no way did Yeshua imply that it is alright to eat any kind of meat, even though it might appear it was included in his words in verse 15 where he said, "There is nothing that enters a man from the outside that can defile him." This statement should also be qualified at the end with, "the way sin defiles a man." On other occasions Yeshua clearly stated that some foods can defile a man and they are to be avoided. I will get to that in a moment. But this type of extreme statement is not uncommon for Yeshua to make. It should be seen for the hyperbole that it is. It is a relative comparison. There are other examples of this extreme relative comparison in the Gospels. Notice what Yeshua says in the following passages.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26
But notice how in another place, Yeshua states the same in a sense of degrees with the words "more than".
"He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:37
Though these passages may sound different in that one appears to call for outright hate, while the other allows for some love, the picture in Yeshua's mind is the same. The first passage should then be qualified as follows;
"If anyone comes to me and does not appear to hate compared to his much greater love for me, his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26
Virtually every Bible translator and commentator knows this to be true. It's so simple! In no way did Yeshua call for his followers to outright "hate" their relatives. But these same translators and commentators want us to believe there is absolutely "nothing" that a person can eat that can defile them! Yeshua should be understood to be saying;
"Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him to the far greater degree that sin defiles him? Mark 7:18
Unclean food, and especially meat from unclean animals, continues to pollute or defile a person even though it is to a lesser degree than what sin defiles. Dealing with sin is far more important. But cleanliness in ones diet is not to be ignored even though it is a smaller issue. Yeshua taught that even the smaller matter of the law are not to be left undone after the "weightier" matters of the law are accomplished. See Matthew 23:23
The fact that even after Yeshua's sacrifice it is possible for a person to pollute themselves with unclean food is evident in his words to the church in Thyatira in the book of Revelation.
"But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." Revelation 2:14-15
"Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and beguile my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols." Revelation 2:20
If there is "nothing" a person can eat that will defile him, how could Yeshua say these things? This also flies directly in the face of what Paul taught in 1Corinthians 8:1-13, and 10:23-33 where in his world, the sin of it all is only in one's head. But I digress.
There is also the fact that if indeed Yeshua had pronounced all foods clean, Peter would have been there and heard it! But he acted like he never heard of such a detestable thing when he had his vision concerning Cornelius. Apparently Peter didn't get out of Yeshua's words what many teachers today would have us think he said! That issue is dealt with in part 1 of, To eat, or not to eat?
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