In the Bible it is written, “And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” (Mar 7:18 -19 KJV) In this text Christ is explaining to His disciples how the body’s processing of food illustrates the spiritual dynamics of cleanness and uncleanness. There is nothing in the text which suggests the Mosaic dietary laws or any part of Torah, the Mosaic Law, has been abolished.
However, the last part of verse 19 is translated much differently in many of our modern Bibles. Take for example the English Standard Version (ESV): “…since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” The ESV is significantly different from the KJV (comparing red text, emphasis mine) and has a vast spiritual implication, directly claiming that Christ — at that instant in time — was abolishing the dietary laws, and by implication the entire Torah. Yet the KJV simply flows with the earlier context and explains how the body removes waste. Which translation is correct?
The Underlying Greek
The answer in this case lies in the Greek text itself: this is an example (one of many) where the Greek New Testament (GNT) manuscripts underlying our English translations actually differ in content. The KJV correctly translates the verse as it is found in the Received Text, which is a family of GNT manuscripts representative of the vast majority of all existing GNT manuscripts. The ESV (and most all modern bibles) provide a reasonable translation of the text (at least in isolation) from the Alexandrian Text, a relatively small collection of GNT manuscripts considered better by most modern scholars, supposedly because they are older and (therefore?) closer to the original autographs. However, it is commonly known, even among those who insist on using the Alexandrian Text, that the Received Text ultimately comes to us from a source which is even older than the Alexandrian manuscripts … older than any known GNT manuscript. This fact demonstrates that any preference for the Alexandrian Text is arbitrary at best. For a detailed explanation and formal proof of the superiority of the Received Text please see The Syrian Recension.
Tim Hegg, whose teaching ministry provides Torah Resource, has a helpful article on this particular translation issue in Mark 7 which provides sufficient detail from a grammatical perspective for anyone who is interested. However, the article is weakened by Hegg’s general acceptance of the Alexandrian Text, though in this case he obviously prefers the Received Text and goes to great lengths to justify it. He shows that the KJV here does not represent an unreasonable translation of the Alexandrian, and finishes his argument by looking at context for further justification, which is his most powerful ally here. (For example, the ESV’s “Thus He declared” are presumed, there is no real basis for it in the Greek) Yet once we understand the relevant detail of GNT textual criticism the translation difficulty is much more easily resolved: the KJV rendering is the only way to correctly translate the Received Text. Having this understanding as we read Hegg makes his explanation even that much more useful and powerful.
In addition to understanding the nature of the Greek manuscripts involved in our translations as it pertains to this particular problem, we may also look to the rest of the context in Mark 7 and to the whole of scripture to complete our analysis.
First, we may note the blatant discontinuity imposed upon the context by most all modern bible translations. The context, if we read carefully, has nothing to do with eating unclean foods, or even with the distinction between the clean/unclean nature of food; the context was about eating bread (vs 2, 5), not unclean animals. As Hegg explains in more detail in similar article, the Pharisees were complaining to Christ that His followers were not complying with their burdensome traditions involving the ceremonial cleanness of their own hands as they ate any kind of food, which is an entirely different matter. (Mark 7:1-5) No one in this setting is thinking about whether the food they have been eating is biblically clean or not; everyone present believes the Mosaic dietary laws are still valid and they are all keeping these laws diligently, so there is no motivation in the context for Christ to even bring the clean/unclean food topic up, much less for Him to do something as drastic as throwing out the Torah by making all unclean foods clean.
Further, nothing in Christ’s response has anything to do with food itself; the topic concerns whether eating without first ceremonially washing one’s hands according to the Pharisees’ tradition causes one to be defiled. Christ simply responds by denouncing the general hypocrisy of their burdensome traditions, giving them an example of this hypocrisy, and then explaining how Torah defines ceremonial defilement: “There is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him: but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.” (Mar 7:15) Christ asserts a simple fact here, one which is easily verified and with which the Pharisees would have had to reluctantly agree: nothing you eat makes you unclean. There are no laws in Torah explaining how eating unclean food makes you unclean … because eating unclean food does not in itself defile anyone. The Torah forbids eating unclean food, but if we do in fact eat something unclean the Torah does not indicate that we become unclean or defiled in the process. This has always been the nature of Torah, and it always will be.
So there is absolutely no motivation in this context for Christ to declare all foods clean; no one in the context is thinking about unclean food and Torah itself already clarifies that nothing we eat can defile us. However, the translators of our modern versions, evidently unaware of this aspect of Torah, apparently presume from Christ’s statement, “whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him,” that He is abolishing Torah. The translators seem to be ignorantly presuming that the whole narrative is about eating unclean food, and thinking that Torah itself teaches us that when we eat unclean food we become unclean. They thus think that when Christ declares the opposite, that no food can now defile us, that He is denouncing this aspect of Torah and thereby discounting and abolishing the Torah itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The fact is that Christ is simply explaining Torah: the food we eat cannot defile us “because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats.” (vs 19) In other words, the food we consume goes into our stomach (not our heart) and then the body eliminates what it doesn’t need into the latrine. According to Torah, this whole process of eating and eliminating can only defile us through what comes out of us, not by what goes into us. Christ is extending and applying the relevant spiritual principles found in Torah by pointing out that what comes out of a man in the physical sense (i.e. excrement) can defile himself, others and the surrounding area if it is not disposed of properly. (Deu 23:12-14) In the same way, our thoughts and motives defile us and others when we do not control and harness our behavior properly; it’s not about what we eat, but about our hearts: what we do, what we think and believe, and how we feel.
The entire immediate context is therefore inconsistent with any thought of cleansing unclean food; only those entirely unfamiliar with Torah and ignorant of the immediate context would make such a mistake. Modern translations are based on a corrupt Greek foundation which encourages the translators to disrupt the flow of the passage and corrupt its meaning. (These Alexandrian GNT manuscripts were evidently copied by scribes in the second and third centuries who were interested in distancing themselves from Torah. This text family represents a class of manuscripts largely found in Alexandria Egypt, a center of Gnostic influence bent on decoupling Christianity from its Hebrew roots. Such intentional altering of the biblical text was common in these heretical groups.) These inferior manuscripts should not be trusted, especially in this context, nor the translators who employ them.
Beyond the immediate context of Mark 7, it is quite clear from a thorough analysis of Scripture that Torah has not been abolished and that the dietary laws are still valid. As an obvious example, The Twelve, the very disciples to whom Christ was speaking the above truths in Mark, never understood that Torah was abolished and they continued to respect the dietary laws throughout their entire lives. If Christ actually did abolish Torah in Mark 7 by making all foods clean, as modern translators would have us believe, not one of His twelve disciples ever noticed it. In fact, years afterward, Peter was still passionate about his obedience here, refusing to eat anything unclean even when he was ravenously hungry. (Acts 10:14. Even after this incident, neither Peter nor any of rest of The Twelve ever changed their minds about this.)
Further, Christ’s own teaching on the enduring nature of Torah is clear and emphatic: He proclaims in most unmistakable language that no part of Torah will ever become obsolete while Heaven and Earth still stand. (Matt 5:17-19) All those who personally heard Christ’s teachings and walked with Him during His earthly ministry understood this, including The Twelve.
Mark would not have written a Gospel which openly contradicted the beliefs of The Twelve, those spirit-filled men who first related the clear teachings of Christ to the Church, the very sources of the substance of his gospel, on such an important topic while they were still alive and active in the leadership of the Church.
The poor translation of Mark 7:19 in modern bible versions, used by many to prove Christ has abolished Torah, the Mosaic Law, is based on a corrupt Greek Text, disrupts and corrupts the flow of the immediate context, and explicitly contradicts the vast weight of the relevant biblical and historical context. This unfortunate translation is most certainly motivated by the willingness of modern bible translators to take great liberty with the text since they are already deceived about its message, as so many are today, believing Christ has abolished His Torah.
The continuing validity of Torah as God’s only standard of holiness can be shown rigorously from Scripture, proving that modern versions of the Bible have mistranslated this important text and introduced blatant contradiction within their works. The following articles may be helpful in further exploring this general topic:
- Keep My Commandments Torah in the Sermon on the Mount
- Nothing Unclean of Itself Living in peace with a weaker brother
- No Greater Burden The verdict of the Jerusalem Council
- What God Hath Cleansed Peter’s vision on the rooftop
- Not Under the Law Understanding Law and Grace
- Christ Is the End of the Law The goal of Torah is Christlikeness