In Mark 7:15, Yeshua said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” In verses 18-23, Yeshua continued, “whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, [thus] purifying all foods?”
These verses are quoted to me often by well-meaning Christians seeking to deliver me from the evils of obeying the Torah, and showing me that I can now eat Pork, as if God repealed his own Torah which He said was forever. The way they argue so passionately, one would think Yeshua died so I could eat bacon!
I have several problems with their interpretation: First, the placement of the passage; it follows a passage where Yeshua criticizes the Pharisees and Scribes for “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do,” Mark 7:13. If Yeshua had “set aside” the Kosher Laws, he would have been guilty of making the word of God of no effect as well. It would have been seen as the ultimate hypocrisy.
Second, Yeshua goes on to explain to his disciples what he did mean by the saying. In Mark 7:18-23, He said, “whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, … What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Clearly, Yeshua is talking about human attitudes and inclinations that are defiling. He is not talking about food. The fact that Yeshua is definitely not talking about food here is made more clear when doing a comparison with Acts 10:11-13. In Peter’s vision, a sheet descends from heaven with all kinds of unclean animals and a voice from heaven tells Peter to arise, kill, and eat. Peter says no, because he has never eaten an unclean thing. Christians tell me that this also proves the Kosher laws have been set aside and we can now eat pork. However, if what Yeshua was saying in Mark was true, one has to wonder why the disciples didn’t start eating pork from that day on. It is clear they did not, because in the complaints against Yeshua, violation of kosher laws was never one of the accusations.
The second passage, in Acts 11 also does not talk about setting aside dietary laws. This is evident from Peter’s own interpretation of his vision. He said in Acts 10:28, “He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” In Peter’s mind, the vision was not about food, but about gentiles, who were previously considered unclean, but now are considered clean, able to receive the Besora.
This interpretation is common in Messianic circles. It undercuts the traditional Christian interpretation that kosher food laws are not in effect. The Christian view misses one important point. In Jewish circles, the circles in which Yeshua and his disciples lived and moved, when the passage says all foods are clean, it needs to be kept in mind that to Jewish people, pork and other unclean meats are not food.
If people took Peter’s vision literally, and said we can now eat anything, the list would extend far beyond pork products. I saw a documentary on television about food in China, and they eat cats and dogs and rats, and literally anything that crawls on the ground; food to them, but far beyond the pale of what Western civilization considers food. People cringe when they think of Koreans eating dog, or watch Chinese preparing cats for food, yet they fall into the same category of unclean food that pork does.
Preservation of the kosher laws not only upholds the validity of Torah, but of the prophets as well. Isaiah 65:3-4 says, “A people who provokes me to anger continually to my face; that sacrifices in gardens, and burns incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable [things is in] their vessels;” makes more sense if kosher laws are still valid. Ignoring these laws makes us guilty of Yeshua’s accusation in Mark 7:13, “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” In this case, it is the Christian tradition, not the Jewish, that makes the word of God of no effect.
When I refer to kosher food, for the purpose of this discussion, I am not referring to the current system of rabbinic kashrut, with all its regulations. I am limiting my treatment of this topic to biblical texts. Having said this, I am not advocating that all Christians start observing rabbinic food regulations. I do find, that in consideration of the above texts, there is less support for non-Jewish Yeshua followers eating biblically forbidden meats. While I have maintained that non-Jews are not obligated in the same way to the Torah as Jews, who have a covenantal obligation to it; non-Jews have always found Holy Scripture, including the Torah to be a guide to life, and it would be a good thing for them to avoid forbidden things, as do the Seventh Day Adventists and the Hebrew Roots churches.
Having said this, it should be noted that I am not saying it is sin for non-Jews to eat forbidden meats; not because I think it is acceptable, but because it is not my place to judge. I don’t tell other people what they should do. Most of the time, they don’t listen to me anyway, and besides, I have my own problems.