Read Matthew 15 at Bible Gateway.
Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees in the first part of this chapter is often used to support the premise that the dietary commandments in Torah have been abolished in Jesus and no longer apply.
The commandment in Torah is found in Lev 11:
Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth:” Lev 11:1-2
This verse is followed by a description of animals which may be eaten for food, and a description of those animals which may not be eaten for food, from the livestock, mammals, reptiles, sea creatures, birds, and creeping things. For example:
… and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you. Lev 11:7-8
So let’s examine their dispute and see what the Scripture is saying:
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Mat 15:1-2
Here we see the discussion is about clean or unclean hands, not clean or unclean foods.
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Mat 15:3-9
Here we see the dispute was over elevating the traditions and commandments of men (Talmud or Oral Law) above the commandments of God (Torah or Written Law), not whether the Torah was still in force or not!
When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Mat 15:10-11
Now remember the discussion is about whether unclean hands defile a man, not whether unclean foods defile a man. Jews in the 1st century did not consider unclean animals food! Only that which was food was put into the mouth, so lamb, goat, fish, deer, any of the clean birds as defined by Lev 11 – these were considered food.
Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?” Mat 15:12-17
The Pharisees claimed that eating clean food as defined by Torah, with unwashed hands, defiled a man just as if he had eaten an unclean animal. The dispute that Jesus was having with the Pharisees was never about whether the Torah definition of clean and unclean food was obsolete, but whether washed or unwashed hands could confer uncleanness to (clean) food (clean, as defined by Torah).
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Mat 15:18-20
Jesus explains obeying Torah from the heart, just as He did in Mat 5-7. He concludes by reiterating that the discussion has been about unclean hands, not unclean foods.
I don’t believe this particular passage can support a premise that Jesus taught that the commandment concerning clean and unclean food had been done away with. His argument with the Pharisees was not a dispute about a point of Torah, but one of their extra- Torah traditions.
For further reading:
The Dietary Laws – Introduction (Brad Scott)
Also, part two, three, four, and five
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