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23 October 2019

Jesus and Food Purity Laws

A New Communion Meal
At one point, Jesus came into conflict with the Jews from Jerusalem about eating food with unwashed hands (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). They believed doing so rendered a person “common” or “unclean,” that is, ritually impure.  The conclusion Jesus pronounced at the end of this story undermines the religious logic behind such food laws
The Pharisees and Scribes objected to his disciples for “eating with unwashed hands” and confronted Jesus about the matter. In their minds, the disciples had rendered themselves ceremonially unclean.
The Jews from Jerusalem raised two issues:  first, the disciples were not “walking” according to “the traditions of the elders.”  Second, they were eating with unwashed hands:
(Mark 7:1) - “Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with defiled hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding fast the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why are your disciples not walking according to the tradition of the elders, but are eating with defiled hands?’
Rather than cite a passage from the Mosaic Law, the Pharisees and Scribes complained that the disciples were violating the “tradition of the elders.” Some groups within Second Temple Judaism had developed a comprehensive system of oral traditions, many of which concerned ritual purity. The Torah or Mosaic law did not require what the opponents of Jesus were demanding.
The Law commanded that priests wash before entering the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:19, 40:13, Leviticus 22:1-6). For a common Israelite, the washing of hands was necessary only if he or she touched a bodily discharge (Leviticus 15:11).
Jesus previously pushed the boundaries of Pharisaic scruples over ritual purity when he had contact with lepers, tax collectors, Gentiles, a menstruating woman, and corpses (Mark 1:40, 2:13, 5:1, 5:25, 5:35). He now pushes their rules to the breaking point by claiming that it is not food that renders a person profane or “unclean.”
Jesus rejected the “tradition” or halakah of the elders by responding, “Wherefore do you also transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition”. He cited Isaiah 29:13 and accused his opponents of hypocrisy. He then gave a real-life example of how their traditions nullified God’s commandments and evaded the Law’s real intent.
Jesus brought up the custom of ‘Corban,’ a practice that enabled a man to earmark property as a gift to God for redemption later.  In the interim, the man was free to do as he wished with the property and could deny his parents access to it and, thus, deprive them of financial support.  This violated the Law’s intention for Israelites to honor their fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12).
At first, Jesus appeared to reaffirm the eternal validity and immutability of the Torah.  But he went beyond it by getting to the heart of the matter. He declared, “not that which enters into the mouth defiles the man, but that which proceeds out of the mouth, the same defiles the man.”
In private, he explained to his disciples, “what comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).
It is not food that renders a man unfit for service to God but sinful acts and self-serving intentions.  As for food, it enters the mouth but “does not enter into the heart but into the stomach whence it proceeds into the latrine,” thus “cleansing all foods.”
The words of Jesus undermine the food restrictions found in the Torah, regulations regarding “clean” and “unclean” meats.  Effectively, Jesus removed the religious logic for dietary restrictions.

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