Matthew 15:11 New English Translation

What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.

Jesus was Jewish and also proclaimed:

Matthew 5:18 New English Translation

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

And the law says:

Leviticus 11:1-2 New English Translation

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Tell the Israelites: ‘This is the kind of creature you may eat from among all the animals that are on the land.

In Matthew 15:11, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and scribes who criticized his disciples for not following the ritual traditions of handwashing. Jesus emphasizes that contamination does not come from what goes into the mouth, but from what comes out of the mouth, referring to sinful words and actions.

In Matthew 5:18, Jesus affirms the lasting validity of the Law. He says that not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will disappear until everything is accomplished.

Leviticus 11 contains dietary laws given to the Israelites, specifying which animals are clean and may be eaten and which are unclean and should be avoided.

The apparent tension arises when I consider that Jesus' teachings in Matthew 15 seem to downplay the importance of certain dietary laws.

Is there any context that harmonizes Jesus' words with Leviticus 11?

  • 1
    There’s a wordplay “what comes out of mouth” κοινοί - “communicates” as well as “makes common” ( and translates as defiled here).
    – grammaplow
    Dec 28, 2023 at 1:31
  • 3
    Handwashing is not from mosaic law but a “custom of the fathers”.
    – grammaplow
    Dec 28, 2023 at 1:36
  • 1
    Throwing out a thought I just received from the cloud. Could Jesus' referral to the fulfillment of the law have anything to do with the fulfillment of prophecies that were written in the law? Because, the law (Torah) contains a few prophecies too besides the legal stuff. The most famous one might be the Protoevangelium. Dec 30, 2023 at 6:34

6 Answers 6


Jesus did not negate the food laws here; he disagreed with the idea that all Israelites had to wash their hands before eating, which is not in the Torah but was a "tradition of the elders." (Mt. 15:2) Also, the rabbis taught that some laws are weightier than others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus deals with the weightiest commandments. On these he definitely taught and practiced a standard even more strict than the various schools of the Pharisees. (Mt. 5:20)

  • Killing: - Not only "you shall not kill," but "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment."

  • Adultery: Not just "you shall not commit adultery" but you shall not even look at a woman with lust.

  • Divorce: not only must you provide your wife with a legal writ if you divorce her, but when you do so you force her to commit adultery.

  • False Swearing: Not just "don't swear falsely" but always tell the truth and therefore don't swear an oath to do so.

  • Eye for an Eye: Not only don't take more than you are entitled to take, but give more than you are asked to give.

  • Love your Neighbor: Not just "take no revenge and love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) but love even your enemies.

These are among the weightiest commandments, and in each of them Jesus insists on the strictest adherence, going far beyond the letter of the law. When it came to the less weighty commandments, Jesus was more liberal. Thus, he did not agree with the stricter Pharisees who insisted that hand-washing before meals was a duty for all Israelites, not just for the priests when they were involved in sacrificial offerings. (Exodus 30:18-20) He also took a liberal view on how working on the Sabbath was defined, arguing that "“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27) The same goes for his stance on associating with Gentiles, where his teaching was in like with the open-minded attitude of the school of Hillel rather than the narrow school of Shammai.

Conclusion: Jesus did not negate the food laws. However, he did take a broader view on hand-washing and other issues of Jewish law than many of the other rabbis did. And on the important stuff, he was very strict.


There’s no conflict.

Here are some arguments:

  1. Jesus' Freedom from Mosaic Law Post-Baptism:

    • Matthew 15:11 states, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man."
    • After the baptism of John, Jesus, as the Messiah, is considered free from the limitations of Mosaic Law. This is hinted at in Matthew 3:15, where Jesus says, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." This indicates a transition in Jesus' mission and his relationship with the Law.
  2. Jesus as a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek:

    • Hebrews 7:17 states, "For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
    • As a priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus has an authority that surpasses the Mosaic Law. Melchizedek, being a figure both of a king and a priest, represents a higher order, as discussed in Hebrews 7:1-3. Therefore, Jesus' teachings and actions should be seen in this light.
  3. Immutability and Fulfillment of Mosaic Law:

    • Matthew 5:17 says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
    • This implies that while the Mosaic Law remains immutable until it is fulfilled, Jesus' role is not to abolish it but to fulfill it, thus bringing a new understanding of its principles.
  4. Handwashing as a Custom, Not Mosaic Law:

    • The issue in Matthew 15:11 is about handwashing, which is a "tradition of the elders" as stated in Matthew 15:2, not a commandment from the Law of Moses.
    • This distinction is important because Jesus is addressing traditions that are not part of the Mosaic Law but are additional interpretations and practices developed by religious leaders.
  5. Jesus' Teaching in Context:

    • In context, what Jesus teaches in Matthew 15:11 is a deeper spiritual truth about purity, focusing on the heart rather than external rituals. This is consistent with his broader teaching, which often went to the heart of the law, beyond its literal observance.

In conclusion, Matthew 15:11 does not conflict with Leviticus 11 because Jesus, post-baptism, speaks with authority over the Mosaic Law as the Messiah and a priest in the order of Melchizedek. His teachings bring a deeper understanding of the Law's intent, focusing on internal rather than external purity. The issue of handwashing was a tradition, not a commandment from the Law of Moses, further indicating no contradiction.

  • 1
    grammaplow you may want to look at the context of matt 5:17, because it also includes "until heaven and earth pass away" - which seem to be still extant. and in your first point, the greek afes is more of Him telling Yohanan to "leave it alone" because it doesn't seem that he really grasps the fullness of what Yeshua is doing, i.e. bronze laver prep of the qurban otherwise, like where you are going. cheers Dec 28, 2023 at 3:52
  • In regards of Matt5:17 consider Greek text of Zechariah11:10 from the Septuagint (LXX). So altogether the message reads like “The covenant will be void when the ‘good shepherd(John10:11)’ go (away) from earth to heaven.” "καὶ ἔλαβον τὸ ῥάβδον μου τὸν καλὸν καὶ ἐξέκοψα αὐτὸν τοῦ διαλῦσαι τὴν διαθήκην μου ἣν διέθεμην πρὸς πάντας τοὺς λαούς." biblegateway.com/passage/… I’m not sure there’s a connection to the ritual basin here. Could you elaborate?
    – grammaplow
    Dec 28, 2023 at 11:15

Look at the context of Matt. 5:18.

“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 … For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17–18,20, ESV}

  1. In v17 Jesus doesn’t say that he came for you to fulfill the Law, but for him to fulfill it.

Note Jesus’ statement:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)

See greek - Tetelestai - What did Jesus really say in John 19:30 assuming he spoke Aramaic or Hebrew?

When Paul wrote:

For Christ is the end [τέλος] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4, ESV)

He did not mean Christ abolished the Law, but that Chrit fulfilled the requirements of the Law for us.

Paul wrote this clearly in Romans 8:3-4:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (ESV)

  1. In v20 the scribes and Pharisees were the humanly best at keeping the Law. Thus, it is humanly impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven by keeping the Law.

When Jesus went on to discuss anger and lust, he pointed out that keeping the law is more than external action, but included internal thought.

Note the greatest commandment of the Law:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25–27, ESV).

This lead to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Those keeping the ceremonial aspects of the Law failed to keep the more important part of the Law.

Jesus, referencing Hosea 6;6, said,

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt. 9:13, ESV)

Paul wrote:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10, ESV)


When it comes to the purpose of dietary requirements of the Law, look at Peter’s vision in Acts 10:18-33. Peter gives his interpretation of the vision as:

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. (Acts 10:28, ESV)

However, Peter’s previous statement:

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:14. ESV)

Showed that until than point Jesus and his disciples had kept the dietary laws. However, the problem with the dietary laws is they separated Jew from Gentile.

Note Paul’s statement:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:11–14. ESV)

Thus, Jesus' statement in Matthew 15:11 had both the purpose and internal aspects of the Law in mind as well as setting the stage for the salvation of the Gentiles.


Neither Jesus nor any of His apostles ever did negate God’s food laws! It is men who negated God’s food laws!

The God who created the human body knows what is best for the human body as food and so He provided the rules for them in His Law.

Even long before Moses’ time, Abel knew about clean animals (Gen 4:4). Also Noah knew well about clean and unclean animals (Gen 7:2).

But Jesus recognized that God’s food laws were NOT “spiritual” laws. They were the dietary laws and were part of the general health laws including the Quarantine given publicly through Moses.

It is clear that Jesus recognized the food laws as NOT “spiritual” laws when He said:

“And He said to them, Are you also so undiscerning? Do you not perceive that all that enters from the outside into the man is not able to defile him? This is because it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and goes out into the waste-bowl, purging all the foods” (Mark 7:18-19).

It is clear from the above that Jesus wants us to discern between the spiritual laws and the dietary laws.

The spiritual laws are weightier than the dietary laws:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, pass out the evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, greedy desires, iniquities, deceit, lustful desires, a wicked eye, blasphemy, pride, recklessness. All these evil things pass out from within and defile the man” (verses 21-23).

Dietary Laws are Temporary (until the change from mortal to Immortal)

Paul is very clear. Men need stomach (the intestine system) and food only as long as they remain “flesh and blood” or physical. Once they are “changed” from “corruptible” into “incorruptible” or from “mortal” to “immortal”, they don’t require stomach and food:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other “ (1 Cor 6:13).


Though Jesus clearly distinguished between the spiritual laws on one hand and other laws or regulations (including the additions of human traditions) on the other, He didn’t abolish God’s dietary laws.

As a Jew, He kept God’s dietary laws and expected His followers to keep God’s laws.

"Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1)!


I am not sure whether the question is about the dietary laws or about the passing away of the laws themselves. For this, the key word is UNTIL. The old covenant and its laws were done away with when he (Jesus) arrived

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers i the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord." (Jer 31:31, 32 A.V.)

Since then, "all" are in the new covenant which is not under any law

"After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Cor 11:25, A.V.)

"Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life... But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament, which vail is done away in Christ. (2 Cor 3:6,14, A.V.)

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Dec 30, 2023 at 14:44
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Dec 30, 2023 at 14:44
  • 1
    I have taken the liberty of quoting the 3 scripture references you gave, using the A.V. If you prefer a different translation just go in to Edit and change that. On here, evidence must be given, not just opinions stated. However, the OP wants exposition of Mat. 5; Mat. 15 & Lev. 11 so there is a need to deal with those either before or after using your 3 scripture references. This is why you have been asked to improve your answer with additional supporting info. I have edited in order to help prevent your answer from being closed down for lack of such info.
    – Anne
    Jan 2 at 15:12

The scriptures were not written originally in the English language. So, reading English words does not convey the original meanings of Hebraic idioms and phrases that are translated into English words. The Eastern mindset is very used to poetry, metaphor, simile, and hyperbole to express spiritual meanings in comparison with earthly objects.

YHVH many times compared people to animals that would express their nature. He compared His people to a flock of sheep (Psa, 44:22; Isa. 53:6; Matt. 15:24; 25:32, 3). YHVH compared evil, wicked people to predator beasts like lions, wolves, and bears (Psa. 57:4; Prov. 28:15; Jer. 50:17; Ezek. 22:27; Zeph. 3:3; Matt. 7:15; 10:16). Righteous men were compared to fruitful trees (Isa. 61:3; Song of Solomon 2:3;) but the wicked people are compared to trees that bear no fruit and are cut down (Ezek. 15:6; Matt. 3:10).

It is imperative to read the scriptures knowing how the words were used in language of the first audience. God defined His metaphors and symbols in the Old Testament, and we can learn them by watching for the words "is" and "are" (means equal to), "as" and "like" (comparisons / synonyms), and "but" (antonyms).

"By David. Do not fret because of evil doers, Be not envious against doers of iniquity, 2 For as grass speedily they are cut off, And as the greenness of the tender grass do fade." (Psa 37:1-2, YLT)

"and the rich in his becoming low, because as a flower of grass he shall pass away;" (James 0:10, YLT)

Evil doers are compared to short-lived grass, briers to be cut down (Heb. 6:8), chaff to be blown away (Job 21:18).

There are so many metaphors God defined, and one of them is the phrase "heaven and earth." He defined it in Deu. 4:26, & 31:32 as the covenant that would be a witness against the Israelite.

"25 `When thou begettest sons and sons' sons, and ye have become old in the land, and have done corruptly, and have made a graven image, a similitude of anything, and have done the evil thing in the eyes of Jehovah, to provoke Him to anger: -- 26 I have caused to testify against you this day the heavens and the earth, that ye do perish utterly hastily from off the land whither ye are passing over the Jordan to possess it; ye do not prolong days upon it, but are utterly destroyed;" (Deu. 4:25-26, YLT)

"`Take this Book of the Law, and thou hast set it on the side of the ark of the covenant of Jehovah your God, and it hath been there against thee for a witness;" (Deu. 31:26, YLT)

The Jews used the phrase "heaven and earth" for the temple in Jerusalem where God met with man. (See When Heaven And Earth Passed Away)

So, when Jesus said to His disciples that "until heaven and earth pass away..." the English words convey God's metaphor, and the Jewish idiom for the Mosaic covenant and the temple at Jerusalem. It should be understood as "until the Mosaic covenant pass away..." and "until the temple pass away..."

The Mosaic covenant passed away at the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple in AD 70. The author of Hebrews told those living in the 1st century, about AD 65-66, that the Mosaic covenant was waxing old and ready to vanish away. (Heb. 8:13).

Therefor, we are no longer under the old covenant, and the old Mosaic temple laws and ordinances are obsolete, and no longer apply.

See my posts Heaven and Earth... and Frequent Mistakes Part V...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.