(Download PDF Print-friendly version)

The majority of Christians today believe that Jesus “did away with the Law”, and part of that includes the food laws. As a result, most Christians will eat whatever they like – including all of the things that did not even come under the category of food – like pork. In Leviticus, God explains to the Israelites all the animals, which are classed as food, and all those which are not.

Often, Christians will claim that the “old Law” is now obsolete, and was only for the Jews anyway. One of the reasons God gave the Israelites the Law, was in order to keep them set apart, a holy people. Of course, it is impossible to keep the entire law to the letter – we are all fallen and we cannot be made righteous or justified by keeping the Law. However, the “Law”, which is better translated as teaching or instruction, is the standard of holy living that pleases God.

Are we not, as followers of Jesus, expected – indeed commanded – to be a holy people? Are we not told to be set apart and to live a life of holiness? Are we not told in Romans chapter 11, that we have been grafted into the olive tree, thus becoming citizens of the commonwealth of Israel? If we are therefore part of Israel, should we not heed the expectations and requirements of being a holy people too? Is not the New Covenant, the writing of the Law on our hearts and minds?

Mark 7:19 is used by the church to claim that we can eat whatever we like – that Jesus rendered the food laws null and void. Most English versions say “Jesus declared all foods clean”. Interestingly, the KJV does not contain this part, while all of the other versions have this statement in brackets.

New International Version: “For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Why does the King James Version, which is one of the earliest translations into English, not contain this portion? And why is it written in brackets in the other versions?

The Original Greek Manuscripts do not say “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)”. You can check this for yourself here, in The Codex Sinaiticus. This had been a later addition by some of the translators in an attempt to give this verse more clarity. And this is why the KJV Bible did not include it. But is this the correct interpretation of this passage? Was Jesus really saying that the Food Laws were now obsolete?

Traditions of Men or Commandments of God

In order to correctly understand this, we must look at the context of this chapter, leading up to verse 19. Is it talking about eating any food, or is it talking about eating food with unwashed hands? Jesus and his disciples were accused of eating without washing their hands – as the Pharisees expected Jews to do according to the tradition of the elders.

Jesus responds by highlighting their hypocrisy by quoting Isaiah 29:13, and then goes on to clarify by saying that they lay aside the commandments of God and hold on to the traditions of men. He is pointing out the difference between God’s commandments and the traditions of men.

So what is the context? Is it not revolving around the traditions of men, which said that Jews should ceremonially wash before eating? The traditions of the elders, which the Pharisees were referring to, say that if you don’t perform ceremonial hand washing before eating, then the food is made unclean. What Jesus said next was a parable. He said, “Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It is what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean”. When the disciples ask him to explain, he tells them that man is defiled by the sin, which is inside and comes out.

Does this mean that Jesus is also saying that God’s food laws are of no value because what goes into the stomach is purged out of it? Is he doing the very same thing that he accuses the Pharisees of doing by putting aside God’s commandments?

Matthew’s account of this conversation adds a little bit more insight about what Jesus was actually talking about. Matthew 15:20 says: “These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone”.

The whole conversation in both Mark and Matthew revolved around “eating with unwashed hands”. There is no mention of God’s food laws in these passages, and no translator has the authority to add phrases such as “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” with or without a proper understanding of context. Jesus did not make that statement.

Doing Away with the Law

He did not “do away with the law” either. Here are some verses for you to consider:

“Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the Law [of Moses] or the Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke will pass from the Law until all things are accomplished.  So whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness (uprightness, moral essence) is more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt 5:17-20

“For I am the Lord, I do not change”

Malachi 3:6


“Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and abominable things, and mice shall be consumed together, says the Lord.”

Isaiah 66:16-18


“I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. ‘You shall therefore distinguish between clean animals and unclean, between unclean birds and clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird, or by any kind of living thing that creeps on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. ‘And you shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”

Leviticus 20:23-26


“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1


“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”                  

Matthew 5:48


We are not “under the law” – meaning we are not bound to it. We do not keep the law out of a legalistic obligation. Neither are we justified by keeping the law – we are set free from the curse that results from not keeping the law, because Jesus kept it perfectly for us. He paid the price that we should have paid because we did not obey the law. He came to set us free – we cannot keep the law as he did, because we are fallen human beings.

But as Paul wrote: “what then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” What is sin if it is not violation of the law? The law was given so that we might know and understand what sin is. Sin is falling short of the standards of holiness that God outlined in the Torah.

Let us not make the mistake of thinking that God has changed his mind about what is included in holy living. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that we can put aside the Commandments of God, and instead lay hold of the traditions of men, which say “the Old Testament is no longer relevant” or “The Law has been done away with – we don’t need to think about it”.

Jesus said: “If you love me, obey me”. What were the words he spoke to his disciples when he called them into discipleship? He said: “follow me”. When you follow someone, you do as they do. If you love him, do you not want to do the things that please him? Obedience out of relationship with Jesus does not mean a burdensome snare.

To love him is to obey him. When the law is written on our hearts, we obey it out of love.


The Emmaus Group


  1. This was a hot topic in the early church. The inspired word of God settles the matter once and for all. Gentiles are required to, “abstain from things polluted by idols, sexual immorality,things strangled and blood.” That is it. As in a previous post I agree that this article is not clear. It brings confusion on a matter which was settled 1900 years ago.

  2. I share Nathaniel and Simon’s reservations about this article, although I have no doubt that it was written in all good faith.

    Table fellowship was crucial for the Early Church, as it is for us today. Eating together should form a central part of our relationship with other Christians.

    Keeping kashrut (Food regulations) meant that Jesus’ observant Jewish followers could not eat with Gentiles – even if they too followed Jesus. This became a problem as more Gentiles were called into the Church, and the issue was addressed By the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). James decreed that Jesus’ Gentile followers should avoid only meat sacrificed to idols and blood, and that they were not required to keep kosher in order to attain holiness. This ruling probably took some time to seep through to everyone, as Paul’s dispute with Peter about eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2) suggests.

    Of course this does NOT mean that Jewish believers should have to eat ham sandwiches in public to prove their devotion to Christ. Paul instructs us not to offend others with our freedom to eat and drink what we like (1 Cor 8). Christians are free to eat – or not eat – whatever they choose. It would simply be bad manners to offer a vegetarian meat, or someone who chose to abstain from pork a bacon bap.

    However, this article goes further, implying that a desire for holiness should lead us to avoid pork or shellfish or any other food deemed unclean in the Torah. This is verging on the ‘other gospel’ of holiness through our own works, that Paul warned about in Galatians 1.

    Peter’s vision of Acts 9 and Paul in 1 Timothy 4 affirm that everything God has created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. As Jesus undoubtedly said, It is not what goes into our mouth that makes us unholy, but what comes out of it.

  3. I agree with Simon and Peter. The addition is just that, but it does not apply to Gentiles, but as per the teaching of Romans, we should respect and honour those who are required to obey – the Jews. The article leaves the erroneous impression at the end that all should be keeping kosher. If that is not what you meant, Emmaus group, you need to make it clearer. If it is what you meant, then you are replacing one error with another.

  4. Thank you for preaching the truth about this. We need it nowadays.

  5. Hi Emmaus Group.

    How interesting! I had not picked up the addition to Mark 7:19 as an addition. I checked out what you say in 2 ways:

    First, in Alfred Marshall’s interlinear English text – word for word – and you are correct, in the interlinear these additional words are not there! Alfred Marshall was using the Nestle-Aland Greek text which is the standard text, I believe, used by most modern English translations. Bizarrely, in my personal edition, which is a NRSV-NIV and interlinear Marshall text combined, both the NIV and NRSV as you point out, do include the additional non-original words in parenthesis, but they are missing in the central Marshall word-for-word text!

    Second, I checked this out in the recent One New Man translation (translator William Morford = ONMB). This also is a highly literal translation. Again the added words have been omitted (correctly, I would concur). Morford earlier translated the New Testament alone as the Power New Testament, but I’m unclear which Greek text he employed.

    I would accept then the idea that the additional words were a later clarification. The ONMB has an interesting footnote against Mark 7:20 – “Yeshua is saying that we do not lose eternal life by what we eat, but we do know that our life on earth is shortened by what we eat, ignoring Acts 15:20 and Tanach warnings, and by overeating”. I understand this as indicating in Morford’s view that non-Jews remain free of dietary constraint, and Jewish believers have the freedom to abstain and not abstain as their personal choice. We also need to roll-into this Acts 10 and verse 15 (actually all of Acts 10 is relevant) where Peter is commanded to kill and eat non-Kosher animals. I believe most Christians would consider this to be the operative text releasing all believers from strict observance of dietary laws (teachings).

    For me and in the absence of more thought and prayer, I believe we correctly understand our freedom in this matter, but I do agree with the assertion that the Mark 7:19 addition is precisely that – an addition. This may have been part of some early Church translator’s desire to de-Judaize the Christian experience and enable non-Jewish converts to continue in their eating habits. We need to remember 1 Corinthians 8: 4 as well – as this also gives permission for the consumption of what a Jew would have considered as ‘unclean’ food.

    Shalom in His Precious Name.

  6. THIS ARTICLE IS DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND as it had no answers to the rhetoric.The ten commandments do not speak of food for the physical I believe Lord Jesus said keep my commandments if you love me He doesnt to my knowledge give us laws. which laws are we,the grafted in ones, obliged to obey, but cant without His grace .do you say that eating bacon is a sin which Lord Jesus died for on the cross?

  7. Excellent article and very well put.

  8. I can agree with this, but what about Acts 15:19-21 “Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For from the earliest times, Moshe has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat.” Here the Ya’akov (and the other apostles) did only mention 4 things the goyim should abstain from. They did not say they should keep Torah. So maybe Jesus did not declare all goods clean, but the apostles came closer if I understand it well.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Share This