Understanding Mark 7:19

Often when I share with Christians that the Torah is everlasting, for all generations, they respond by saying, “But the Messiah made all foods clean.” By this they allude to Mark 7:19, a passage which has been very misunderstood.

The common anti-nomian understaning is based on the reading of this verse as it is found in the New American Standard and many other translations. The New American Standard version reads:

18 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,
19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.
21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.
23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
(Mark 7:18-23)

Many other translations of the Greek text give similar renderings of the phrase in verse 19:

Thus he declared all foods clean” (RSV, NAS, NEB, NWT)
“In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” (NIV)
“In saying this, Jesus declared that all foods are fit to be eaten” (TEV)
“By saying this he showed that every kind of food is kosher.” (Living Bible)

Unfortunately many so-called “Messianic” and “Sacred Name” translators/editions still say or imply that Yeshua made all foods clean in this verse:

“By saying this he showed that every kind of food is kosher.”
(The Living Scriptures – David Bronstein’s revision of the Living Bible, 1982)

“Thereby purifying all foods”
(The Book of Life; Messianic Vision (Sid Roth) 1981)

“Thus he declared all foods ritually clean”
(Jewish New Testament – David Stern, 1989)

“making all the okhel [food] tohar [ritually clean]”
(The Orthodox Jewish Bible – AFI 1996)

Surprising the King James Version actually gives a better translation of this verse than many more modern versions:

Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, \
and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?
(Mk. 7:19 KJV)

The Scriptures version from ISR similarly renders the Greek “thus purging all foods” (The Scriptures – ISR – 1998)

Te Aramaic of the Old Syriac reads simply:

Because it does not enter his heart but his belly:
and it is thrown away and cleansed, even all food.

The Aramaic of the Peshitta reads:

Because it does not enter his heart but his belly:
and it is thrown away and cleansed, which purifies all food.

Thus the Hebraic Roots Version reads:

18 He said to them: Are you likewise also slow to understand? Do you not know that a thing that enters a son of man from the outside, can not defile him,
19 Because it does not enter his heart but his belly: and it is thrown away and cleansed, even all food.
20 But a thing that goes out from a son of man, that, defiles a son of man.
21 For from within, from the heart of a son of man, evil thoughts proceed; adultery, fornication, murder, theft,
22 Covetousness, wickedness, craftiness, perversion, the evil eye, blasphemy, pride; foolishness.
23 All these evils proceed from within, and defile a son of man.
(Mk. 7:18-23 HRV)

When we look at this passage in the original Aramaic (or even in a good translation of the Greek) we can see that the passage is not saying that all foods have been made clean, but that all foods pass through the body and are purged through excretion into the latrine.

It is very easy to see that this phrase is not intended to mean that all foods are made clean when we examine the context of the phrase.

This discussion of clean and unclean starts from a debate concerning the hand washing ritual known as Netilat Yadayim:

1 And the P’rushim and scribes gathered around Him, who came from Yerushalayim.
2 And they saw some of His talmidim who were eating bread, while their hands were not washed, <and they complained. >
3 For all the Judeans and P’rushim, unless they wash their hands <carefully, > do not eat bread: because they hold to the tradition of the elders.
4 And they do not eat things from the marketplace unless they are immersed. And there are many other things that they have received to observe: immersing of cups, and of pots, <and of bronze vessels, and of biers. >
5 And the scribes and P’rushim asked Him, Why do Your talmidim not walk
according to the tradition of the elders: but eat bread while their hands are not washed?
(Mk. 7:1-5 HRV)

Yeshua responds in the next few verses:

6 And Yeshua said to them: Well, did Yesha’yahu the prophet, prophesy concerning you. Hypocrites! As is written, This people honors Me with its lips: but their heart, is very far from Me.
7 And vainly they fear Me, while teaching teachings of the commandments of men.
8 <For you have left, the commandment of Eloah: and you have grasped the tradition, of the sons of men–immersions of cups, and of pots, and many things that resemble these.>
9 He said to them: Well did you reject the commandment of Eloah, that you might establish your [own] commandment.
10 For Moshe said, Honor your father and your mother: and he who reviles
father and mother will indeed die.
11 But you say, If a man should say to his father or to his mother, What you would have gained from me, is my offering [to the Temple].
12 Then you permit him, not to do a thing for his father or his mother.
13 And you reject the Word of Eloah, because of your [own] commandment that you have handed down: and you do many things that are like these.
14 And Yeshua called the entire crowd and said to them: Hear Me, all of you, and be persuaded.
15 There is not a thing that is outside of a son of man and enters him, that is
able [to] defile him: but the thing that goes out from him, that, defiles a son of man.
16 He who has ears to hear let him hear.
(Mk. 7:6-16 HRV)

Yeshua’s response is to emphasize the importance of honoring one’s parents with one’s words, and specifically in making vows. Yeshua takes a position on vows that parallels that of Rabbi Elieazer as we read in the Mishnah:

R. Elieazar says: they open a vow for a man by reference to the honor of his father or mother, and the sages prohibit.
said R. Tzadok: before they open a vow for him by reference to his father or mother let them open his vow by reference to the honor of HaMakom. If so there will be no vow.
But the sages concede to R. Elieazar, that in a matter that is between him and his mother or father they loose his vow by reference to his father or mother.”
(m.Nedarim 9:1)

I could do an entire teaching on what Yeshua says about vows here and how it relates to the halachic positions of the Essenes and various Pharisaic schools of the time, but that is a different subject. Here I want to stick with the topic at hand. The initial topic that started this discussion was the custom of Netilat Yadayim (ritual hand washing). It is important in understanding Yeshua’s comments in the discussion of Netilat Yadayim, to understand the basis for this hand washing custom.

The custom of ritual hand washing in Rabbinic Judaism is drawn from Leviticus 11:44 which reads:

For I am YHWH your Elohim: sanctify yourselves therefore, and be you Set-Apart, for I am Set-Apart; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth.
(Lev. 11:44 HRV)

The hand washing custom is drawn from a Baraita on this verse. A Baraita is an ancient Oral Law tradition in Judaism which was not incorporated into the Mishna. The Talmud records the Baraita as follows:

Our Rabbis taught: The absence of oil is a bar to the saying of grace. So said
R. Zilai. R. Ziwai said: It is no bar. R. Aha said: Good oil is indispensable.
R. Zuhamai said: Just as a dirty person is unfit for the Temple service, so
dirty hands unfit one for saying grace. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: I know nothing either of Zilai or Ziwai or Zuhamai, but I do know the following teaching, viz.:
Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: some say it was taught in a Baraita,
Sanctify yourselves: (Lev. 11:44) this refers to washing of the hands before the meal;
And be ye holy: this refers to washing of the hands after the meal; `For
holy’: this refers to the oil; `I AM the YHWH your Elohim’: this refers to the grace.
(b.Berachot 53b)

The Baraita understands “Sanctify yourselves” in Lev. 11:44 as refering to washing one’s hands before a meal and “be you Set-Apart” in Lev. 11:44 as refering to washing one’s hands after a meal.

But now lets look at the context of Lev. 11:44. Leviticus 11 begins with:

1 And YHWH spoke unto Moshe and to Aharon, saying unto them:
2 Speak unto the children of Yisra’el, saying, These are the living things, which you may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
(Lev. 11:1-2 HRV)

The rest of the material from Lev. 11:3-43 deals with the commandments concerning which animals are considered clean to eat and which are considered unclean. This section then wraps up with:

For I am YHWH your Elohim: sanctify yourselves therefore, and be you Set-Apart, for I am Set-Apart; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth.
(Lev. 11:44 HRV)

Now it is important to know that in the final phrase “neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth.” the phrase “yourselves” is literally “your nepheshot” or “your souls”.

And so the Pharisaiac Baraita is that “sanctify yourselves” means to wash one’s hands. But Yeshua is arguing that hand washing means nothing, if we are not sanctified on the inside, because the second part of the verse contrasts “sanctify yourselves” with “neither shall you defile your souls”, thus “sanctify yourselves” must also mean to sanctify your soul. Yeshua’s point is that it is not enought to abstain from unclean meats, if our soul is defiled inside already. This does not mean to eact unkosher food, but rather that it is just as important to have a clean soul as it is to eat kosher.

 

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