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What Does the Bible Say About … JESUS and UNCLEAN FOODS?

Mark 7:14-23, Jesus declares all foods “clean”. Does this statement nullify the Old Testament dietary law outlined in Leviticus 11?

This is a very interesting question. Let’s first read the text in question.

Mark 7:14-23: “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.’ After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘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.”) He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.’”

Now let’s back away and read what precedes these words from Jesus. Why was Jesus saying those words?

Mark 7:1-13: “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with `unclean’ hands?’

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said,
`Honor your father and your mother,’ and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’”

Jesus was reacting to the Pharisees’ criticism concerning his disciples eating with unwashed hands. Immediately Jesus points out that they “have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”.

Jesus wasn’t pleased that a human was putting tradition above His father’s laws. It’s unbelievable, but we humans make so many laws (tradition) and confuse them with God’s will. How indignant Jesus was with that thought.

That is when Jesus made this famous comment: “Nothing outside a man can make him `unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him `unclean.” How true He was. It is not because his disciples ate food with unwashed hands that they were sinners. It is what comes out of the heart of men that makes him/her a sinner (unclean). (verse 15, 16)

Then Jesus clarifies his thoughts with his disciples in verses 17 to 23: “After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘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.”) He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.’”

Nowhere is there mention of clean and unclean food in this whole context. Why do we read the in verse 19: “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.”) “? Does this, in the context of abolishing hygienic ordinances, make sense?

The error lies in the translations of certain English versions of the Bible. The King James and the New King James translations of this passage are more “word by word” translations of the original Greek language.

Mark 7:18-19: “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? NKJV

Mark 7:19: Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? KJV

If we look in the original Greek language we would read and translate it:

ti ouk eisporeúetai autoú eis
Because not it entereth into

teén kardían all eis teén
his heart, but into the

koilían kaí eis tón afedroóna
belly, and into the draught,

ekporeúetai katharízoon pánta tá
goeth out purging all


In other words the food that we eat is purified by the stomach. The unhealthy or innutritious parts are separated, and only the wholesome parts are taken into the system. “This agrees with all that has since been discovered of the process of digestion and of the support of life. The food taken into the stomach is by the gastric juice converted into a thick pulp called chyme. The nutritious part of this is conveyed into small vessels, and changed into a milky substance called “chyle.” This is poured by the thoracic duct into the left subclavian vein and mingles with the blood, and conveys nutriment and support to all parts of the system. The useless parts of the food are thrown off.” (Barnes’ Notes)

As for the sentence: (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)? It simply doesn’t appear in the original Greek. Jesus is not changing dietary directions here. He is pointing out the process of digestion that separates the wholesome from the unwholesome parts of food. What makes a person unclean or sinful is “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.’”

Are you holding tradition of man above God’s law? Is there something in you that makes you unclean? Maybe it is evil thoughts, or sexual immorality. Maybe it is theft , murder or adultery? Maybe it is greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance or folly. No matter what is is, Jesus is ready to forgive you. Heb 8:12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Will you come and accept Him in your heart right now?

Rob Chaffart

In the Old Testament, man was under the law. Because Jesus came and died for our sins, we are no longer under the “law”. So I think your question is irrelevant in this case.


In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus declares all foods ‘clean’. Does this statement nullify the Old Testament dietary law outlined in Lev. 11?

This question of clean and unclean foods has troubled many people. Probably the best way to deal with it is to follow it through.

The first reference to ‘clean’ animals is found in Genesis when Noah was told to take 7 of each of the clean animals on board. Since animals are only known as ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ in the context of whether or not they are good to eat, this suggests to me that meat was on the diet in pre flood times, despite what some ‘health message’ proponents may claim.

Genesis 7:2-AV Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that [are] not clean by two, the male and his female.

There is another important aspect to this verse in that this was still quite a long time before there was ever a Jew. Those who say the food laws apply only to the Jews should note that animals were regarded as ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, by God, before the flood.

Now, after the flood Noah was told that all animals were to be ‘meat’ for him.

Genesis 9:3-AV Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

Consider carefully this verse. We know from the above that Noah knew full well what was ‘clean’ or not. We also know that God does not change. So this is not a reference to God changing what was ‘clean’. By this time the only food not destroyed would have been what Noah brought with him on the Ark, and possibly, fish. I believe that this is God telling Noah that he could decide himself what to eat, probably to avoid waste as much as anything else. I would expect that Noah and his family would have eaten ‘clean’ food whenever possible.

Then we come to the food laws. A careful examination of these laws will reveal that they were given more in the interests of good health than anything else. It is evident too that these health laws also included instructions for personal hygiene and methods of dealing with boils, leprosy and other maladies. Following these laws did also set the Jews apart from those around them.

One thing one learns when exploring the Bible – God is very practical. There are some quite good medical reasons for following the food health laws. Here are some of them.

All ‘clean’ animals are ruminants. That is they have four stomachs. This ensures a much more thorough processing of food than is possible with one stomach, and less pollutants are stored in the flesh. It has also been discovered that ruminants are not subject to flesh worms. These can be acquired from eating the flesh of almost every other animal. The pig which got special mention as ‘unclean’ stores poisons in its body fat. A snake cannot kill a pig. The poison is just stored in the fat under the skin and is ingested by anything that subsequently eats that pig. Many outback Australian properties keep pet pigs around the home buildings to deal with snakes which come in plague proportions when the cracks in the ground, where they live, are closed by the swelling of the earth after rainfall. Pigs love snakes – they suck them up like spaghetti. My wife grew up with pet pigs that were kept for this purpose.

Concerning the flesh of the pig. With today’s hygienic methods of raising these animals it is unlikely they would carry the same risk as one raised in the wild, but consider this: the meat takes 4 days to digest in the bowel instead of 2 for ‘clean’ meats. Bowel cancer has been linked to excessive meat consumption and if the length of time spent in the bowel has anything to do with it then pork is twice as bad as beef.

Likewise the birds that are clean have an organ called a ‘gizzard’ which again permits the bird to process it’s food more thoroughly.

Most of what we call ‘sea food’, prawns, crabs, shell fish etc. are filter feeders. What they do is clean up the pollution in the oceans and store it in their bodies. Oysters for instance thrive best downstream from sewerage outlets. When one eats these creatures the pollutions become more concentrated in our own bodies. Calcium kidney stones for instance are often the result of over indulgence in these foods. Fish without scales, like sharks and catfish, are scavengers and are at the top of food chains. Their bodies will contain a much higher level of pollutants than creatures further down the chain. Even among the ‘clean’ fish there are some that you can’t eat. The ‘Chinaman’, a beautiful big red reef fish looks great but contains poison.

One creature we do not seem to eat much unless we live in Afghanistan, is the grasshopper or locust. Its clean. Get stuck in. I’m told that when cooked they taste somewhat like sausages and contain more protein than beef. I must admit the only time I have eaten one was when riding a motorbike and for some reason opened my mouth at the wrong moment.

Leviticus 11:22-AV [Even] these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.

In Mark 7 Jesus is talking about spiritual defilement. He made no reference to ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ foods except to say that the man is not defiled by what goes into his mouth, but what comes out of it. The whole argument started with an objection to some of His disciples eating bread without washing their hands. If you take this passage to mean that it is all right to eat unclean foods, you have missed the point. Jesus is virtually saying that whatever a man decides to eat, it will not defile him spiritually. This is totally consistent with the earlier reference to Noah being allowed to eat all things. It is also consistent with the food laws being guidelines for good health rather than hard and fast laws in the same sense as murder and stealing etc. Paul also had something to say on the topic. Consider this passage.

1Corinthians 10:23-AV All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

1Corinthians 10:24-AV Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s [wealth].

1Corinthians 10:25-AV Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake:

1Corinthians 10:26-AV For the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.

1Corinthians 10:27-AV If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

1Corinthians 10:28-AV But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof:

Paul is consistent here with the trend that has been emerging. All things are lawful to him but he would not give offence to another by eating something the other thought unclean, in the other’s presence. He would consider the other’s feelings above his own. If invited out to a meal, he would show good manners by asking a blessing and cheerfully eating what was put in front of him rather than offend the host by rejecting what would probably be a carefully and lovingly prepared meal. This is the code I was taught as a child. Meat sacrificed to idols is not a problem in western cultures but may be in some pagan cultures.

Romans 14:1-AV Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, [but] not to doubtful disputations.

Romans 14:2-AV For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

Romans 14:3-AV Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

Romans 14:4-AV Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

In this passage Paul again supports the concept that eating is a personal choice and that we should not despise another on account of what is eaten, but support and encourage each other. (I like that bit about ‘One that is weak eateth herbs’ – Paul apparently was not a vegetarian) Just on that – It would probably not be nice to refer to vegetarians as ‘weak’ – some of them are actually pretty tough. The spirit of this message is to give support and tolerance to others and not bother about what they choose to eat.

One more relevant point we should consider.

1Corinthians 6:19-AV What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

1Corinthians 6:20-AV For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1Corinthians 10:31-AV Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

From these verses it would seem prudent to take good care of our bodies and this would mean avoiding foods that may not be good for us. We should eat, drink and live our lives to the glory of God, not for our own pleasure.

To sum this up, it is my belief, supported by the quotations above that eating is a personal choice, and that the food or health laws should be taken as good advice. The God who told us what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ is the same God who made these creatures. He should know. Jesus did not nullify the guidelines (health laws) given in the OT. Nor did he say not to wash your hands before you eat. We have brains and intelligence to work things out and do what is best for our own bodies, always considering the needs and feelings of others.


My Pastor said that in this scripture, Jesus was not referring to dietary laws but to spiritual laws. They were accused of not washing their hands before a meal, not of eating unclean food. Breaking bread is considered an alter before God. Therefore the law of washing your hands before a meal was a symbol of coming before God with a clean heart. Jesus was referring not to what they ate but to the ungodliness, hypocrisy, and total disregard for what God wants that was in their hearts. He was indicating that their hearts were so filthy that they pollute everything around them. Jesus said in Matt. 5:15 that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law and nothing was to be removed from the law until the end of time.

Donna Scott 

In answer to this weeks question I would just like to say yes. I took this question to my Pastor looking for a answer because I didn’t know, and when I gave him the question he just looked at me and said yes. He didn’t need to elaborate on this because I knew he was right by just saying yes.


This question enters on a false premise. Jesus does not declare the unclean animals clean. He simply states that the eating of these animals does not make a person a sinner against God.

Jesus further illustrates that it is what one feeds the heart and mind then what that action produces come out of a person and defiles them. In other words a sinner sins.

Another similar scripture used to bring up this question of clean and unclean is Peter’s Acts 1: 5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: 6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. 8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. 10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.

As we continue in our reading though we learn the correct reason for the vision. It was to tell Peter that the gentiles are acceptable to God to receive the Gospel and the benefits of fellowship with Jewish Believers.

Daniel Deane

No, I do not feel that Mark 7:14-23, makes Leviticus 11 null. In the wilderness the Israelites were not satisfied with manna from Heaven. So, God gave them meat, but He let them know what kind they could eat. In Mark, He later said that it is not what you eat that makes you unclean, because that is only going into your stomach. But what goes comes out of your heart is what makes you unclean.

If I feed my spirit man with things of the world then I am eating unclean food. Therefore, what comes out of my heart will be unclean and unpleasing to God. But if I feed it with God’s word then I am eating clean food and good things that are pleasing to God will come out of my heart.

Jacqueline C Weathersby