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Did Jesus free people to eat previously forbidden meats like pork in Matthew 15:10-20?

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  • In 1 Cor 10 Paul says to the Corinthians: "Eat anything sold in the meat-market". These gentile Christians lived in Greece and the meat in the meat-market in such a place would involve unclean meat, such as pig. If the same advice was given to the Jewish first Christians in Israel the meat in the meat-markets there would only involve clean meat. Feb 28 at 11:34

7 Answers 7

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Jesus was not about abolishing food laws, but more about criticizing later traditions such as hand-washing (Mark 7). The statement in Mark 7:19 "thus he declared all foods clean" is an interpretation given by the author.

The people who actually knew Jesus (disciples and brother James) were mostly inclined to keep the Jewish laws intact. Under Paul's influence, they apparently (according to Acts 15) permitted Gentile believers to follow an abbreviated version, however the historical reliability of Acts is disputed.

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    In Acts 15, "the Apostles and elders" meeting in Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were saved "in the same manner as we," by faith, and not by circumcision or the keeping of laws. Jun 7, 2019 at 16:01
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    Yes, Acts portrays all the differences as resolved, with Christianity united under the Pauline banner, and everyone part of the same big team. Given the agenda of the author, a historian must ask how accurate it is. In Paul's letter, we see that serious differences remained; that people aligned with James persisted in trying to promote the Law (Gal 2). Certainly the Pauline believers eventually won out; for one thing, relaxing the law enabled them to recruit Gentile converts in great numbers, while the mission to the Jews was far less successful. The successful theology gets to be canonized...
    – Teamonger
    Jun 8, 2019 at 4:32
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    I'm saying that the smooth portrayal by Luke in Acts 15 is historically suspect, as many scholars have noted. The author was clearly aligned with Paul's viewpoint, thus had a vested interest in the outcome. But notice in Gal 2, Paul never says he won the argument, only that he received "the right hand of fellowship". If all was resolved as tidy as Acts 15 claims, seems likely that Paul would have said so... would have pointed out that Peter admitted to being wrong, and that even James agreed. Paul's view eventually won out, of course. "History" gets written by the winners.
    – Teamonger
    Jun 8, 2019 at 19:30
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    No irony to it. I trust Paul in this instance because he would likely have cited to the Galatians anything that would make his case stronger. I'm not defining which sources are true, rather trying to use the criteria of historical inquiry to evaluate them. Nor am I trying to define "what Christianity is", I will leave that up to Christians. Nor I did cite scholars, rather tried to lay out the reasoning behind their views.
    – Teamonger
    Jun 8, 2019 at 20:33
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    Paul's argument would've been much stronger were he able to say that Peter and even James had agreed that the Gentiles need not keep the Mosaic law. If Paul had won that argument so decisively as Acts 15 portrays, he surely would've told the Galatians. Since he did not, we have to suspect that things didn't go the way Luke claims it did. After all, Luke was Paul's buddy, and Acts is pro-Pauline all the way.
    – Teamonger
    Jun 8, 2019 at 21:22
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Mark 7:1-23 (DRB) And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. 2 And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients: 4 And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. 5 And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands? 6 But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 And in vain to they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men.

8 For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. 9 And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses said: Honour thy father and thy mother; and He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die. 11 But you say: If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, (which is a gift,) whatsoever is from me, shall profit thee. 12 And further you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother, 13 Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do.

And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand. 15 There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 And when he was come into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked him the parable. 18 And he saith to them: So are you also without knowledge? understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him: 19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all foods? 20 But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man. 21 For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.

( I have changed 'meats' to 'foods' because the archaic English is woefully misleading here.)

Matthew 15:10-20 (DRB) And having called together the multitudes unto him, he said to them: Hear ye and understand. 11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 12 Then came his disciples, and said to him: Dost thou know that the Pharisees, when they heard this word, were scandalized? 13 But he answering, said: Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit. 15 And Peter answering, said to him: Expound to us this parable. 16 But he said: Are you also yet without understanding? 17 Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy? 18 But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. 19 For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. 20 These are the things that defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands doth not defile a man.

To be sure, He is teaching that claiming any given food, or manner or eating, is intrinsically evil as in morally unclean, is teaching error. This would include those who say it's 'evil' to eat, for example, pork, which is something entering the mouth of man, not coming from his heart, whence all evil thoughts actually originate. This gets to the greater truth that all sin can only come from within a moral agent, never without him. An axe cannot cause sin. A man can wield it so as to murder someone with it, but the axe isn't evil. Jesus' point here at the least would be that, if God forbade the eating of these foods (such as pork), it was not because they are intrinsically evil (i.e. that God could never allow them again), but for some other purpose (i.e. simply to make a unique, holy people with peculiar customs to set them apart).

If Jesus indeed explicitly allowed the unclean foods of the Mosaic Law on this occasion, we might not expect Peter to act in the following way upon being faced with a vision of unclean animals which he is told to eat:

Acts 10:9-15 (DRB) And on the next day, whilst they were going on their journey, and drawing nigh to the city, Peter went up to the higher parts of the house to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 And being hungry, he was desirous to taste somewhat. And as they were preparing, there came upon him an ecstasy of mind. 11 And he saw the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great linen sheet let down by the four corners from heaven to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts, and creeping things of the earth, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: Arise, Peter; kill and eat. 14 But Peter said: Far be it from me; for I never did eat any thing that is common and unclean. 15 And the voice spoke to him again the second time: That which God hath cleansed, do not thou call common.

Eventually, it says, he did eat these foods following the vision, as we see a few verses later:

Acts 11:1-9 (DRB) And the apostles and brethren, who were in Judea, heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, 3 Saying: Why didst thou go in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them? 4 But Peter began and declared to them the matter in order, saying: 5 I was in the city of Joppe praying, and I saw in an ecstasy of mind a vision, a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet let down from heaven by four corners, and it came even unto me. 6 Into which looking, I considered, and saw fourfooted creatures of the earth, and beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air: 7 And I heard also a voice saying to me: Arise, Peter; kill and eat. 8 And I said: Not so, Lord; for nothing common or unclean hath ever entered into my mouth. 9 And the voice answered again from heaven: What God hath made clean, do not thou call common.

So perhaps Jesus was not specifically addressing the issue of unclean foods at this point (something for which He would probably have been killed purely for questioning), but the general notion of moral, sinful uncleanness derived from what color or shape or taste a food has, or its healthiness, or whatever other attribute a certain food or eating utensil, including hands, might have.

However, by this point in Acts (and later in Acts 15, when the core doctrine of the necessity of circumcision was loosed by the Apostles also), certainly it was understood by the Peter that heaven has cleansed all food, in light of the distinction no longer to be made between peoples, "For there is no distinction of the Jew and the Greek: for the same is Lord over all, rich unto all that call upon him" (Romans 10:12). Peter is explicitly told to kill and eat unclean foods—unthinkable if God viewed it as a sin (like giving a vision of adultery in order to allow all sinning, yet forbidding adultery itself! or something equally absurd).

Jesus technically includes unclean animals among "all foods," to which category they obviously belong.

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    Eventually, it says, he did eat these foods following the vision. I cannot see where you get this from, in the text. Peter did receive the gentiles and Peter did preach the gospel to them (the whole point of the vision). But there is no indication that he ate anything at all, that I can find. That was not the point of the vision. Even in the dream, there is no indication of actually eating. Just an invitation to do so.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 8, 2019 at 5:57
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    As I pointed out, it's absurd to claim God would give a vision enticing or inviting Peter to sin, for any purpose whatsoever. Moreover, I cited the passage declaring he did eat with them, the next chapter, and the context is that beforehand he would not eat unclean or common food. A vision where God calls the unclean foods "clean," or specifically "made clean" by God, is absurd if to eat them is in fact a grave sin for Jews still (despite the doing away with other core parts of the ceremonials, like circumcision later in Acts). Jun 8, 2019 at 11:12
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    Questions here need to be about specific verses - please don't answer questions like this.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 21, 2019 at 5:11
  • God tempts no one. Why would God give Peter a vision inviting him to eat unclean food? Nigel
    – R. Brown
    Jul 15, 2020 at 16:16
  • +1 for good answer based on context. "God hath made clean the unclean food. Acts 11:9
    – R. Brown
    Jul 15, 2020 at 16:17
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Yes, Jesus said in Mark 7:18-19,

Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

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Did Jesus allow people to eat meat forbidden by Moses?

Definitely not.

First of all, it wasn't Moses that forbade eating unclean meat. Moses simply codified and wrote down God's laws.

People were well aware of clean and unclean meat long before Moses. In fact, they were aware of it long before the Israelites and Jews even existed.

The Bible records that Noah, the ancestor of all mankind, knew about clean and unclean animals:

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. — Genesis 7:2

God defined what was fit to eat and what wasn't. This was not in any way part of any special covenant with a specific group of people (e.g. requiring circumcision for the Israelites). It was a fact for everyone.


Jesus said:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. — Matthew 5:1

and:

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. — Matthew 5:18

Despite this, most people that claim to be Christian, and most of the people that answer this question, do seem to think that he destroyed the law, changing much more than a jot or tittle.

They use eisegesis rather than exegesis when reading the Bible. I.e. rather than reading the Bible to discover what it teaches, they read it to confirm their already existing beliefs.


Acts 10 has nothing to do with saying that all meat is fit to eat.

Peter didn't understand this vision at first:

Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean --- Acts 10:17

But then later he realized what it meant:

God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. — Acts 10:28

The vision was showing Peter that Christ's sacrifice was available to all mankind, not only to Jews. It was not about unclean food. It certainly wasn't saying that unclean food is suddenly now fit to eat.

And if Jesus himself had ever eaten anything unclean, the Pharisees would have jumped on him for violating, not only one of their expanded rules, but a direct Biblical commandment. But they never did.

If it was true that all meat is fit to eat, then surely Jesus would have mentioned this revelation to the Disciples while they were together, but he never did.

Peter had spent years with Jesus, but during that time he had never heard that all meat was now fit to eat. Many years later, he still claimed:

I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

Years after the Crucifixion, Christians still obeyed God's food laws as given in the Bible. It was centuries later, when syncretism merged the Roman religion with a semblance of Christianity, that people began to believe the lie that some of God's laws for mankind were done away with.


Others quote Mark 7:19, which in some translations contains this parenthetical remark "(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)". Look at the original Greek scriptures; it says nothing like that. This addition is wishful thinking, not translation.

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  • According to Jewish understanding, the consumption of unclean animals is part of what makes a Gentile unclean.
    – Lucian
    Jun 10, 2019 at 12:54
  • Questions here need to be about specific verses - please don't answer questions like this.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 21, 2019 at 5:11
  • @curiousdannii, right. When reading, it's too easy to forget whether one is in Christianity.SE or Hermaneutics.SE. The question would be more appropriate there (though it really should be worded differently). Jun 21, 2019 at 17:44
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Jesus' teaching in Mt 15:10-20 has two senses, an immediate and a mediate one.

The immediate sense was to reject the mandatory status that the Pharisees wanted to give to their purely human tradition of washing the hands before eating. This is clear by the context of the teaching (Mt 15:1-9) as well as by its conclusion: "but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man" (Mt 15:20).

The mediate sense was to abolish the mandatory status of all food prohibitions. This mediate sense is implicit in verses 11 and 17 but was not realized by Jesus' disciples until the twice-repeated vision of Peter in Joppa (Acts 10:9-16). It was that vision which made Peter realize that the discrimination between pure and impure foods in the Mosaic Law reflected that, in the times before Christ, God had discriminated between the people of Israel and the Gentiles by establishing an alliance with only the former. But now that God had decreed that the new Alliance in Christ, the Alliance that really made people internally pure, was open to people of all races, the discrimination between pure and impure foods had no longer a reason to exist. Then Peter realized that the abrogation of the law of food purity was already implicit in what Jesus had taught them earlier: "Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into the belly, and goes out into the sewer?" (Mk 7,18-19) and later taught that conclusion to his disciple Mark, who stated it explicitely in the text of his Gospel.

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The debate was about the Pharisees' tradition of hand washing before eating foods. Note that it does not say that the food they were about to eat is unclean or unholy. Jesus accused the Pharisees of ignoring God's commandments and substituting it with their own traditions. Isaiah 29:13 Mark 7:8.

What Jesus said in Matthew 15:17-19 was about bodily excretions that can be found in Leviticus 15. These excretions leave the body, not enter. Unlike the evil the comes out from the heart of man which defile him. Note that the end of Matthew 15:20 says "but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Reviewing Leviticus 15 would show that Jesus did not declare all foods clean as this was not the subject of Jesus' debate with the Pharisees. The subject of the debate was eating with unwashed hands which was made clear in Matthew 5:20 "but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

The addition "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." is misleading to unwary readers. It gives the appearance of justifying the consideration of Jewish view of the scriptures as not important or that they have been nullified by Jesus.

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First of all, Jesus stated

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." -Matthew 5:17,18 ESV

But have you noticed the dietary changes introduced by major covenants in the Bible?

Adam and Eve . . .

And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. -Genesis 1:30 ESV

To Noah and his family . . .

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. -Genesis 9:3-5 ESV

To Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel . . .

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. -Leviticus 11:1-3 ESV

It goes on to divide all living animals between clean and unclean.

Peter and the followers of Christ . . .

and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. -Acts 10:11-16 ESV

So the question becomes, did God intend the vision in Acts 10 as a metaphor concerning the believing Jews accepting Gentiles as fellow believers? Would these gentile believers be bound to or exempt from kosher dietary restrictions?

This became a controversy in the early church, so the predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem responded with a letter with four requirements for the Gentiles:

"But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." -Acts 21:25 ESV

Did this mean that the Messianic Jewish believers still kept kosher? From Paul's writings, I think we can say the answer is yes, they did. But they also separated themselves from eating with Gentiles, something that Paul rightfully objected to.

Paul also maintained a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding meat sacrificed to idols along with honoring each other's other dietary convictions such as being vegetarian or abstaining from alcohol.

But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. -1 Corinthians 10:28-33 ESV

In Revelation 2, Jesus objects to two churches who taught their believers to eat food sacrificed to idols. In my opinion, this refers to imparting a belief that eating food sacrificed to idols--perhaps even "Christian" idols--has some spiritual value.

In the Millennium . . .

But it doesn't end there. In Isaiah, we read

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. -Isaiah 11:6,7 ESV

Is this metaphorical or does it mean that animals and humans will return to their Edenic diets? I don't know, but in Isaiah, we also read

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. -Isaiah 25:6,7 ESV

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