Questions From Readers
● What is the point being made in Mark 7:19 where we read: “Thus he [Jesus] declared all foods clean”?
Basically, the point is that a person does not become spiritually defiled by what he eats, such as by eating food with hands that were not washed according to some religious ritual.
As the context of Mark 7:19 shows, Pharisees and scribes had taken issue with Jesus because his disciples ate with “defiled hands, that is, unwashed ones,” while the religious leaders ‘did not eat unless they washed their hands up to the elbows.’ (Mark 7:1-3) Jesus duly exposed them for holding to man-made traditions while ignoring weighty principles of God, such as caring for their parents. He continued: “There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man.”—Mark 7:5-15.
Christ’s followers then asked him what he meant. Mark’s account goes on: “[Jesus] said to them: . . . ‘Are you not aware that nothing from outside that passes into a man can defile him, since it passes, not into his heart, but into his intestines, and it passes out into the sewer?’ Thus he declared all foods clean.”—Mark 7:18, 19.
The grammatical construction of the last part of Mr 7 verse 19 is unusual in the original Greek, but many translators have understood it to be a comment added by the writer Mark. But why would Mark add: “Thus he declared all foods clean”?
Mark’s comment would reasonably be in accord with the historical situation existing when Jesus said what he did. At that time the Mosaic law was still in effect, so certain foods, such as pork, were “unclean” to God’s servants. That continued to be the case until Jesus’ death brought to an end the Law with its dietary restrictions about clean and unclean food.—Compare Leviticus chapter 11; Colossians 2:13, 14; Acts 10:9-16.
Hence, Mark logically was talking about food that was “clean” from the standpoint of the then applicable Mosaic law. The tradition-bound religious leaders felt that in eating even such food they would be made unclean unless first they followed elaborate cleansing rituals. And they tried to impose on all believers these rituals that were not part of God’s law but were man-made traditions. So, when Jesus pointed out the error of the religious leaders’ thinking, Mark could rightly add an observation as to the import of what Jesus said. Yes, food that the Mosaic law permitted would not defile the eater just because he had not ritualistically washed his hands.