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.”
“For I am the Lord, I do not change”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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