Mark 7:14-23 (and its parallel account in Matthew 15:1-20) is another set of scriptures that some believe state that nothing entering into a man can defile him, therefore eating whatever one wishes is perfectly all right. Can this be correct?
Those who believe this fail to understand the subject of the chapter, which is Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees for their rejection of God's commandments in favor of their own traditions (verse 8). Verse 2 introduces the context: "Now when [the Pharisees] saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault." The dispute was over ceremonial cleanliness - eating without first washing one's hands - which is not even an Old Testament law but a "tradition of the elders" (verse 5), which the Pharisees had themselves proclaimed authoritative.
In addition, beyond this fact, note that the kind of food the apostles were eating is "bread," not meat. Jesus' later comments speak generally of "foods" and "whatever enters the mouth," not specifically meat. Mark 7 is not about clean and unclean meats at all!
Verse 19 contains the phrase "thus purifying all foods," and many have jumped to the conclusion that Jesus declared all foods clean (as many marginal references state). The context, again - the very sentence in which it appears - proves this false: "Do you [disciples] not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, thus purifying all foods?"
First, "thus" is not in the Greek text but has been supplied by the translators. Without it, the sentence plainly states that the stomach "purifies" any kind of food put in it, not that Jesus had somehow declared all foods to be purified. Second, purified is the Greek word katharízoon, which means "to cleanse," "to purify," "to free from filth." In relation to the stomach's or the digestive tract's ability to "purify" food, the sense of katharízoon in this verse is "to purge of waste." This is brought out clearly in the parallel statement in Matthew 15:17: "Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?"
Do these scriptures do away with the law concerning clean and unclean meats? Not at all!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?
Evil proceeds from within to without but so does good. Just as sin proceeds from within, so does righteousness. In Psalm 51:10, David pleads with God to create a clean heart within him because he understands that from a clean heart proceed clean thoughts and thus clean conduct that will glorify God. God promises exactly this in Ezekiel 36:25-26.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
It is obvious that He lays the choices—the decisions, the judgments to do these things—not on Satan's shoulders, but on man's—that man should know enough to resist any Satanic impulse to do these things. So, who does God hold responsible for obeying Him? Truly, we learn from Revelation 12:9 that the Devil has deceived the whole world, but when we add these other factors, we find that God holds each person responsible for what he or she has done. He holds Satan responsible for his part, and He holds each person responsible for his or her part. It has to be this way, otherwise what consequence is free moral agency? It would be no consequence at all.
So God, from His position, does not view us as being free from blame because we have been duped by Satan. We can see this in a simple example of God's judgment concerning Adam and Eve. He dispersed a portion of blame to each exactly where it belongs: on all three participants.
This is especially important for us to understand because the Bible is written for those who have made the covenant with God. It is only written indirectly for the world. It is given to those who have had their eyes opened—to those to whom God has revealed Himself. God has put Christians into a position very similar to Adam and Eve's. God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve from the very beginning, and they were in a position where they knew God and could make a choice that others may not have been in the same position to make because they did not have that initial contact with God. However, God has revealed Himself to us, and thus, we are in much the same position as Adam and Eve.
By far, these verses apply to us more directly than they do to anybody in the world. We have to face our responsibility squarely concerning whom we will choose to serve. Will it be the sovereign Lord Creator or Satan, a fallen angel? Who is sovereign in our lives?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)
This long section dealing with defilement begins with a question from the Pharisees about eating with unwashed hands (verse 7). Christ's answer never strays from this point; He is addressing ritual washings that the Jews added (verses 7-9), not unclean meats. Verse 19, however, is often cited as proof that Jesus declared all foods clean. Yet He is speaking about the human digestive system! He says that whether one washes his hands or not, the digestive tract handles, or "purifies," all food the same way. He then moves to the more serious issue of a man's conduct, which is what truly defiles him.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Clean and Unclean Meats
Jesus, in Mark 7:20-23, provides clear insight as to the location of the generator of man's drive to possess. Notice especially what He lists first, as it is the generator that leads to the other sins. His instruction thus also points out where the other sins can be stopped. A person's evil thoughts do not exist because of brainlessness, but because of confusion of values and lack of concern for godly, spiritual truth, leading to careless, shoddy moral choices.
Paul adds in Romans 7:7: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" Some of God's laws are self-evident even to the natural mind, but only God can tell us that it is absolutely wrong to lust. By contrast, a major theme of the modern culture is "You can have whatever you want, if you only make the effort."
The tenth commandment deals with attitude and motivation. Even if an individual secretly rejects God's standard and way in his heart and lusts after something he cannot or will not lawfully possess or do, then eventually, this mental rebellion will break out in sin. Action will manifest what the mind has been doing all along.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Mark 7:21: