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God’s Word for You

Mark 7:14-19 All foods are ceremonially clean

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, November 14, 2019

14 “Listen to me, everyone!” Jesus said, calling the crowd to himself once again. “Understand this: 15 There is nothing outside a man that can make him unclean by going into him. But the things that come out of a man are what makes him unclean. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Mark doesn’t give us every detail, but it seems as if a crowd had distanced themselves from Jesus when the scribes and Pharisees had approached the Lord. Now he called them back to warn them. The scribes and Pharisees were dismissed with Jesus’ accusation: “You nullify the word of God” (verse 13), and now he wanted the people to know the truth.

17 After he had left the crowd and entered a house, his disciples asked him about this proverb.

Translations (including mine) struggle with the Greek word parabole (παραβολήν) which usually means “parable” in the Scriptural sense. Sometimes it has another meaning, such as “figure of speech” or “illustration” (“This is an illustration…” Hebrews 9:9). There is even the “old saying” in 1 Samuel 24:13. Since Jesus’ words in verse 15 are axiomatic, “proverb” seems to be a reasonable translation without confusing readers by making it seem as if this is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning about the kingdom of God. This is Jesus’ judgment about ceremonial cleanliness in the New Testament age.

18 “Do you lack understanding in the same way?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? 19 For it does not enter his heart, but his stomach, and then out into the latrine. All foods are ceremonially clean.”

The last sentence was either spoken by Jesus or else it was an inspired comment by Mark. Translations may differ, but the point is identical either way. The heart is the seat of faith, not the stomach. What goes into the stomach doesn’t make us unclean. Jesus needs the disciples to understand him, so he uses a graphic word: latrine (ἀϕεδρών). When the Jews thought about being ceremonially clean, the first thing they thought of were the foods that were clean and unclean (Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14). But Jesus now declares that food doesn’t make a Christian defiled or unclean. Food goes in, gets used by the body, and the waste goes out. What defiles a person is what goes in the heart and then leaves the heart through our thoughts, words and actions. This is sin. This is why we need a Savior.

The Old Testament ceremonial law served one main purpose: It pointed the way to the Savior. On the one hand, by its many regulations about foods, blood, and so on, it showed the need for a Savior in every aspect of human life (not only outward, blatant sins). On the other hand, it also pointed ahead to the very Savior who would one day come as both High Priest and sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind. With the arrival of Jesus that Savior, the ceremonial law ceased to have any purpose. It was not ignored by Jesus or contradicted by Jesus; it was fulfilled by him. He has paid the penalty for every sin, outward, inward, and even our every form of uncleanness. Now we are able to approach our heavenly Father unafraid of our condition, since our condition is redeemed children of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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