Did Jesus (p) abolish Jewish Kosher?
It is highly probable that the Christian next-door is into an all-inclusive dietary practice. S/he would not be scrupulous with the foods being consumed as Jew (or a Muslim) would be. It is almost considered lawful to consume food items which are prohibited in the Bible. Sadly enough, many Christians try to prove their position from the Bible itself! In fact some Bible versions have taken it for granted that Jesus (peace be upon him) allowed every food for them rescinding Mosaic Laws! One such incident happened at this very blog when a Christian used biblical passages to support his view.
Therefore, we have decided to take a close look into the matter if it is really permissible that a Christian consume any food that s/he like even those forbidden in the Bible. We would consider one of the most famous of the New Testament passage herein.
The Jesus (p) Yardstick
The Jews to this date scrupulously observe what is called as the “Kosher”. Kosher is basically the Jewish dietary law. The practice of Kosher does get its support from the Bible. Consider the following passage for instance:
Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination. Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten. (Leviticus 11:42-47, King James Version)
Jesus (peace be upon him) for the known fact that he was a “Jew” must have observed the dietary Law. In fact, not just “dietary” Law, Jesus (peace be upon him) wanted to surpass every Pharisee and Scribe of his time by observing all the Laws of the Old Testament:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 5:17-20, King James Version)
Did Jesus (p) allow all kinds of food?
On the foregoing it is hard to assume that Jesus (peace be upon him) would have allowed dietary practices against God’s Laws! Then what did Jesus (peace be upon him) mean when he said,
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. (Mark 7:15, King James Version)
Apparently it seems like Jesus (peace be upon him) allowed consumption of all foods irrespective of the Old Testament rulings on them. In fact the Good News Edition of the Bible has already construed Jesus’ (peace be upon him) statement as permission for every kind of food. In between verse 19 and 20, Good News Editionsbrackets the following declaration:
“In saying this, Jesus declared that all foods are fit to be eaten”
Nevertheless, a closer look into the passage reveals that Jesus (peace be upon him) never intended to allow all foods lawful for his disciples. It is vitally important to understand the setup and context which led to Jesus’ (peace be upon him) statement:
Chapter 7 begins with Pharisees and doctors of the Law in a dispute with Jesus (peace be upon him). For the Pharisees, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) disciples were not up to the mark as far as observing the rituals were concerned. The Pharisees were particularly upset with the disciples not ritually cleaning their hands before eating food:
“Some Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their food with hands which were ritually unclean – that is, they had not washed them in the way the Pharisees said people should” (Mark 7:1-2)
For the Pharisees it was important to wash hands ritually since they inherited it from their forefathers (c.f. Mark 7:3). However, Jesus (peace be upon him) had other views. For him the act (of cleaning hands) was mere show of hypocrisy devoid of any sincere God-consciousness:
“Jesus answered them, “How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote: These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me….” (Mark 7:6)
Jesus (peace be upon him) also recognized that the ritual of washing hands before eating was a man-made innovation which was never part of God’s Laws:
“It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach man-made rules as though they were God’s laws!’ “You put aside God’s command and obey the teachings of men”” (Mark 7:7-8)
It is not difficult to understand the perspectives of Pharisees and Jesus (peace be upon him). While the Pharisees would act as sticklers, ironically, not to God’s Laws but to mere mundane innovations, Jesus (peace be upon him), on the other hand, would not only denounce any innovation in God’s religion but he also would strive for spirituality and God-consciousness even in the rituals. It was under this context that Jesus said,
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing that goes into a person from the outside which can make him ritually unclean. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that makes him unclean” (Mark 7: 14-15)
Consider the construction of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) statement in the first place: If Jesus’ (peace be upon him) intent would have been merely to allow all foods permissible for his disciples then he would not probably had started his statement with a strong exhortation to “listen” him carefully and “understand”. Obviously there was much more to be understood than what would apparently appear from his words. Through such a cautious expression, Jesus (peace be upon him) wanted his disciples to be careful to second part of his statement where he alarms his audience from the evils that “comes out of a person that makes him unclean”.
As obvious as it is, Jesus (peace be upon him) definitely shifted the focus from mereman-made formalities to higher acts of spirituality. For him, the need of the hour was not bickering over “rituals” and systems but inner uprightness. In fact, Jesus (peace be upon him) explicitly chided the Pharisees, in the same context, merely a few statements earlier, towards their moral degradation in the name of observing “rituals”:
“And Jesus continued, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching. For Moses commanded, ‘Respect your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death.’ But you teach that if a person has something he could use to help his father or mother, but says, ‘This is Corban’ (which means, it belongs to God), he is excused from helping his father or mother. In this way the teaching you pass on to others cancels out the word of God. And there are many other things like this that you do”” (Mark 7:9-13)
Understand that for Jesus (peace be upon him) the Pharisees were not qualified to be talking about ritual niceties when they had devised ways how they could be excused from helping their own aging parents! For Jesus (peace be upon him) the demand of ritual cleaning was as folly as the excuse of the “Corban”, let alone the fact that the ritual it was an innovation. In this context, therefore, when Jesus (peace be upon him) stated that nothing that goes in defiles a person, then Jesus (peace be upon him) was not really talking about permissibility of foods as he was concerned about refuting the snares of Pharisees.
We can further appreciate that (i) Jesus (peace be upon him) did not construct his statement more obviously as “nothing that a person eats”; rather he said “nothing that goes into a person”! This is more than just a hint that Jesus (peace be upon him) was not really concerned about food here. Furthermore, (ii) Jesus (peace be upon him) is comparing food (goes in) and actions (comes out), or at least talking about both of them simultaneously, when both are quite disparate! These should help us interpret Jesus (peace be upon him) correctly that he was not as much concerned and discussing food and its rulings as he was vexed with the inner corruption of the same Pharisees advocating their (man-made) rituals. This understanding is further corroborated by the fact that where Jesus (peace be upon him) devotes only a verse (v.19) for things going into a person, he devotes four verses (vv. 20-23) into explaining about the evils emanating out of men.
We expect persisting Christians to argue that Jesus (peace be upon him) allowed all foods since it does not enter into the heart – where intentions for actions emanate – rather it goes straight into the stomach where it is digested and is done with:
“You are no more intelligent than the others,” Jesus said to them. “Don’t you understand? Nothing that goes into a person from outside can really make him unclean, because it does not go into his heart but into his stomach and then goes on out of the body.”(Mark 7: 19)
Obviously the reasoning is very narrow and does not accommodate the context. Furthermore, such an argument is awfully inconsistent with the food offered to idols since, of surety, they also do not enter the heart but go to stomach and yet Christians are forbidden to eat them:
“It is my opinion,” James went on, “that we should not trouble the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write a letter telling them not to eat any food that is ritually unclean because it has been offered to idols;” (Acts 15: 19-20)
Much like the Pharisees, James is also concerned with “ritual uncleanness”. If Jesus (peace be upon him) has declared that “nothing” going in defiles men then James should not be concerned about the food offered at idol altars especially when James and every other Christian believer knows that every eatable is in reality created by the living God and not dead idols. Consequently, Christians should consistentlyobey Jesus (peace be upon him) and eat the food offered to idols as, “because it does not go into his heart but into his stomach and then goes on out of the body.”
Paul was also against eating food offered to idols:
Consider the people of Israel: those who eat what is offered in sacrifice share in the altar’s service to God. Do I imply, then, that an idol or the food offered to it really amounts to anything? No! What I am saying is that what is sacrificed on pagan altars is offered to demons, not to God. And I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink from the Lord’s cup and also from the cup of demons; you cannot eat at the Lord’s table and also at the table of demons. Or do we want to make the Lord jealous? Do we think that we are stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10: 18-22)
If food is just-food without any scruples of God-consciousness since they merely have to enter stomach and not heart then why is Paul so concerned about food offered to idols! If, “Nothing that goes into a person from outside can really make him unclean” then why is it an issue whether the food is offered at the altar of God or “demon”? Similarly, how does one become a partner of demon when Jesus (peace be upon him) declared the “outside” food cannot really make him “unclean”?
On the same line of reasoning, if that “what comes out of a person that makes him unclean” (Mark 7:20) and the (Christian) believers have become pure in their association with Christ (peace be upon him) then how come anything constitute “the cup of demons”.
These queries are irreconcilable if we continue to misinterpret Jesus’ (peace be upon him) statement merely to satisfy our eating appetites.
Therefore, it seems that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) expression is more about moral sanctity of men than rulings on foods. In fact, we do not find any real reason why Jesus (peace be upon him) need to discuss food-rulings at all since (i) Jews were abreast of Mosaic commandments already and Jesus (peace be upon him) had initially upheld every facet of the Laws. And (ii) there is no hint that Jesus (peace be upon him) ever ate food which was condemned as defiling by the Laws. Add to it that Jesus (peace be upon him) considered the act of ritually washing hands as mere innovation. Consequently, a mere innovation could not possibly decide cleaning/defiling of men and thus Jesus (peace be upon him) could say that nothing going “in” without this man-made ritual cleansing could defile men as an expression to debunk innovations in the religion! Furthermore, if Jesus (peace be upon him) is (mis) understood for permitting “any” food then, consistently, even food offered to idols would become lawful! This obviously is a problem.
On the foregoing, if we are to be careful towards the text and sincere towards the speaker, especially when he himself is not around to explain the imports, then we would have to accept that Jesus (peace be upon him) did not really gave permission to the Christians to choose dietary at their free will.
- Unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical texts taken from the Good News Edition.