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?
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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Mark 7:18: