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Many modern translations of the New Testament insert additional words into the text of Mark 7:18-19. The New International Version ends verse 19 with the comment: "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean'." The New King James Version has "thus purifying all foods."
One of the foundational principles for understanding a scriptural passage is to examine the context. The topic of discussion here is food in general, as Mark 7:2 points out: “Now when they (the Pharisees) saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault." They then asked Jesus, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" (verse 5).
Mark 7:3-4 provides an explanation of the practice the Pharisees and scribes were referring to in this account: "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders ..."
The food laws are not in question here. The disciples were being criticized for not following ceremonial hand-washing procedures and, after decrying the hypocrisy of this and other religious practices, Jesus explains what defiles a person comes not by what one eats, but from within (Mark 7:15), adding that it is far more important to concentrate on what comes out of your heart than what you put into your mouth: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23).
The Apostle Peter would have understood if Jesus had repealed the laws of clean and unclean meat, but an event from his life well after Jesus' death and resurrection, corroborates that Jesus did not change the biblical food laws. When Peter experienced a vision of unclean animals accompanied by a voice telling him to "kill and eat," Peter's response was: "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean" (Acts 10:14).
This strange vision came to Peter three times, and he "wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant" (Acts 10:16-17) and eventually God revealed the true meaning to him: "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).
Peter came to realize the vision showed God was opening the way of salvation to gentiles (non-Israelites), and shortly thereafter Peter baptized the first uncircumcised gentiles God called into the Church (Acts 10:34-35; 45-48). Peter never ate unclean animals, but he did learn God’s message of salvation applies to all nations.
The Good News Magazine (Nov-Dec, 2002)