Troublesome Topic: Jesus on Clean and Unclean Foods

Lesson 3 of 8

Jesus did not eliminate the designations “clean and unclean;” He agreed that there were some things that are clean and some that are not clean. He saw the importance of these designations. However, He did change the perception of the people of His day about certain aspects of clean/unclean issues.

Mk 7:14-23 and Mt 15:10-20 relate Jesus’ discussion in which he said, “[It is] not what enters into the mouth that defiles a man; but what goes forth out of the mouth, this [is what] defiles a man.”

The Pharisees were offended by it because it was a deviation from the Law of Moses which emphasizes what goes into the mouth. Who was this Jesus fellow to change things like that? Well, actually He and His father were the authors of the Former Covenant, and He would establish a New Covenant with them, but no one knew that yet.

Why did Jesus make this change?

It is the heart that is considered clean and holy, clean and common, or unclean and common. The law implies that it was the actions that make a person clean or unclean. The actions were visible and since the law was a tool for teaching God’s principles, it needed visible teaching tools. But Jesus went deeper and pointed out that before any action can be taken, the heart has already made its choice. The heart is not made clean or unclean by the action, rather the action reveals the condition of the heart. The Former Covenant was characterized by visible things one could measure; the New Covenant is characterized by non-visible things that we humans cannot measure.

In the Mark account, the author adds an editorial note to the effect that when Jesus said this, He was “purifying all foods” (v 19). I take this to mean that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the followers of Jesus realized that He had set aside the regulations of the Old Covenant and kept only the principles.

If it is true that the only thing that can contaminate us is our own heart, what does that do for what I said in my section on the Old Covenant regarding the food regulations? There I state that the issue of clean and unclean animals should, among other things, make us very careful about the influences around us. Does the teaching of Jesus change that? Well, it changes it a little bit. If my understanding of this passage is correct, it would mean that the influences around us are not to blame as much as we are for giving in to them, and even wanting what they offer. If our heart is right, nothing should be able to dislodge us from our position of faith. We should want Him so completely that nothing else around us even phases us. That is what it means to be dead to sin.

I don’t suggest that you set yourself down in the middle of many sinful influences just because you consider yourself to have a pure heart. In reality, those things should repulse us. We should be troubled in spirit by the very things that attract so many.

In regard to the influences around us, it is still our own heart that is at fault for finding that temptation desirable. James 1:14 says that “a man is tempted by his own desires, when he is drawn off the right path and lured into a trap.

Yes, Jesus changed things, but He kept the heart of the issue the same. He upheld the principles while setting aside the regulations of the Law. The principles conveyed by the food laws were: God has a holy standard, God established what is normal for each realm, God wants pure instruments, and stay away from things that take you in the wrong direction. Jesus affirmed all these principles and lived by them, but He did so without following all the regulations. He exemplified how to be guided by the Holy Spirit rather than controlled by regulations.

The next lesson all three series on Covenants is: Paul and the Purpose of the Law