Fasten your seat belts … here we go!
Matthew 15:11 and Mark 7:18-19
And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? (Matt 15:11, KJV)
And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? 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 his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) (Matt 15:11, NASV, emphasis added)
These are parallel passages in that they record the same events. Mark’s account reads, “And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” (KJV) The Hebrew Roots Version, which is a translation from the Aramaic, confirms the KJV rendering of this verse. However, some of the modern texts (e.g., the NIV and NAS) add the phrase to the end of this verse, “In saying this [Yeshua] declared all foods clean.” This variant phrase in the newer English translations is the source of the confusion in the minds of many who read this.
The KJV is translated from the Greek family of manuscripts called the Textus Receptus or Received Text, which until the end of the nineteenth century was accepted as the most authoritative and purest manuscripts by the Protestant church. On the other hand, the newer translations derive from another family of Greek manuscripts that were rejected by early Protestant scholars as being inferior to the Textus Receptus, but liberal scholars from England challenged these beliefs of earlier scholars and were instrumental in popularizing the variant and previously rejected family of Greek manuscripts (called the Western family of texts).
The debate has raged on for more than 100 years as to which family of manuscripts is the oldest and most reliable in accordance with the actual autographs. But since no one knows for sure which family of manuscripts are the oldest and purest, can we approach the issue of determining whether the added words in the newer English translations, “In saying this [Yeshua] declared all foods clean” are accurate or not to the original language? Was Yeshua saying here that the dietary laws delineated in the Torah are now nullified? If so, would this be consistent with the rest Yeshua’s teachings?
Briefly, what was Yeshua’s stand on the Torah? In Matthew 5:17-19 he said,
Think not that I am come to destroy the Torah-law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 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.
Here Yeshua here instructed his followers to not think that he came to annul the Torah-law.
Then in both Matthew 15:6-9 and Mark 7-9 Yeshua rebukes the religious folks of his day for nullifying the Word of Elohim by their man-made traditions. What did he mean by the phrase Word of Elohim? When he made this statement there was no “New Testament,” but only the Hebrew Scriptures (or “Old Testament”). He was rebuking the Jews for changing YHVH’s Word of which the biblical dietary laws in the Torah were a part. So for him to rebuke the Jews for changing the Word of Elohim, and then a few verses later to be advocating the annulment of the dietary laws found in that Word would have made Yeshua not only a hypocrite, but a Torah-law breaker and thus a sinner (1 John 3:4). To suggest that Yeshua was a law-breaker is utter blasphemy(!) and nullifies the entire gospel message and the entire “New Testament.” Yeshua could not have been advocating the violation of the Torah-law, and at the same time be the Word of Elohim made flesh and be YHVH’s sinless redemptive lamb, as the newer translations imply by the addition of the phrase, “In saying this [Yeshua] declared all foods clean.” Therefore, we utterly reject this phrase as a corruption of the original text.
By looking at the context, we see that the issue in these passages in Matthew and Mark was not about eating kosher versus not eating kosher, but whether it was allowable to eat with unwashed hands or not. According to Jewish non-biblical oral tradition it was imperative for one to go through an elaborate hand washing ceremony for mystical reasons before partaking of food. These commandments were rooted in traditions of men, not in the Torah-law of YHVH. Yeshua is taking the Jews to task for placing more emphasis on man-made traditions rather than on the pure and firm Word of Elohim. This seems to be a chronic problem in many religious circles even in our day. Sunday worship replaced the seventh day Sabbath. Christmas and Easter replaced the appointed feasts of YHVH such as Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. And the list goes on.
Acts 10: What About Peter’s Vision?
And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (Acts 10:13–15)
In Peter’s vision of the sheet covered with unclean animals the voice from heaven commanded him three times to kill and eat these unclean animals. Peter was confused by the meaning of this vision since being a Torah-law abiding Jew he knew that eating unclean meat was forbidden and in good conscience he could not do that which was contrary to YHVH’s Torah-law, for to do so was sin (sin is the violation of the law, 1 John 3:4).
Often visions are metaphorical in nature and not literal. There are many examples in Scripture of people receiving metaphorical visions. Just read the books of Daniel and Revelation, for example. Indeed, Peter’s vision was no exception, for no sooner had the vision ended when three Gentile men appeared at his door seeking the gospel and the Spirit of Elohim bade Peter to go and to meet them. Peter then realized that the interpretation of vision was that he should not call any man common or unclean; that is, the gospel message is for all whether Jew or those of the nations (verse 28). The Scripture interprets itself in this passage and the issue is not about whether it is now permissible to eat non-kosher meat or not, but rather the fact that the Spirit of Elohim was now directing the apostles to begin taking the gospel to the nations, who by Jewish standards were considered common and unclean (verse 28).
Now consider this. If Yeshua had meant to say in Matthew 15:11 and Mark 7:18–19 that all foods were clean to eat including those meats that the Torah prohibits to be eaten (e.g., pork, shellfish, etc.), presumably Peter would have known this, since he was present when Yeshua made the statement (see Matt 15:15). If Peter knew that Yeshua had given the okay for his followers now to eat unclean meat, then why did Peter so strongly object when the voice from heaven bade that he eat the unclean animals in the vision (Acts 10:13–14)? Obviously, Peter had not changed his opinion about not eating unclean meat, since Yeshua had never annulled the Torah command forbidding the eating of unclean meats. This simply demonstration of logic shows us that neither of these Scripture passages can be used to prove the annulment of the biblical dietary laws.
Luke 10:8 and 1 Corinthians 10:27
Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
Do these passages give believers the freedom or even enjoin them to eat whatever is placed before them if, for example, they are in someone else’s home even if the food is non-kosher? Understanding context is vital to understanding Scripture. When verses are taken out of context they can not only lose their meaning, but can take on an entirely different meaning to the writer’s original intent. As Messianic teacher Dr. Daniel Botkin points out in an article entitled God’s Dietary Laws: Abolished in the New Testament?, “Yeshua spoke these words when he sent out the seventy. These were seventy Torah-observant Jews who followed a Torah-observant Rabbi. … Rabbi Yeshua had told his disciples, ‘Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,’ (Matt. 10:6).
“It is obvious from this statement that the disciples would be lodging in Torah-observant Jewish homes, where the kosher laws were followed. It is ridiculous to suppose that the disciples might have been offered a pork chop in one of these Jewish homes. Even if this very unlikely possibility had occurred, the disciples would have had enough sense to know that this is not what their Master meant when he said to ‘eat such things as are set before you.’ He simply meant to be content with the food which your host provided” (Gates of Eden magazine, Nov./Dec. 1997 issue).
Though similar to Yeshua’s passage, Paul’s passage in Corinthians has an entirely different context. The issue is not kosher versus non-kosher meat, but meat that was sacrificed to idols that was later sold to the public in the meat markets of Greek cities (for context read 1 Cor. 10:19-29). Botkin points out that in the four times in the Apostolic Scriptures believers are forbidden to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:20; 21:25; Rev 2:14, 20), yet the dilemma was that when one bought meat in the public markets it was not known whether it had been sacrificed to idols first or not. So for conscience sake Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to buy the meat and to not ask about its origination (10:25). However, if a person knew that it was meat sacrificed to idols (verse 28) for their own conscience sake and that of others who might be watching them then they were not to eat of it (ibid.). The same principle applied to those eating in someone’s house as a guest. If one knew that the meat was offered to an idol then they were forbidden to eat it. However, if they did not know, then it was not necessary to ask. Again, it was not a matter of clean or unclean meats, but of meat sacrificed to idols or not.
For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
Is Paul teaching in this passage that it is permissible for believers to eat “all things?” including unclean meat, which includes rats, bats, scorpions, lizards and cockroaches?
First let’s examine the greater context of Romans 14:2, which is 14:1-15:6. Messianic Jewish biblical scholar David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary states that among believers there are two groups: those with “strong faith” and those with “weak faith.” The latter are depicted in this passage as feeling they must abstain from meat or wine and/or observe certain days as set-apart (kadosh), while the former feel no such compunctions.
Stern continues, it is clear from this passage itself that the “weak” cannot be equated with Torah-observant Messianics. Nothing in YHVH’s Torah-law requires an Israelite to be vegetarian (verse 2). It is argued that kosher food might not have been available in Rome, but Rome had a large Jewish colony (Acts 28:17), and it is unthinkable that it would not have had a shochet (ritual slaughterer). Also nothing in Torah requires one to refrain from wine (verse 21); the only exception are Nazirites during the period of their vow and cohanim (priests) on duty. On the contrary, wine drinking is so much a part of Jewish ritual that is lent an aura of sanctity that, at least until recently, made alcoholism very uncommon among Jews.
In Stern’s opinion, the weak are believers, either Gentile or Jewish, who have not yet grown sufficiently in their faith to have given up attachment to various pagan ascetic practices and non-biblical Greek or Jewish calendar observances. (This is not a reference to the biblical feasts or appointed times that YHVH spells out in his Torah-law.) He then lists four types of people who fit into this category: (1) Gentiles who want to avoid the appearance of evil by maintaining physical and emotional distance from anything that reminds them of their previous idolatrous practices… who want to avoid the trappings of their former sinful way of life. (2) Gentiles who adopted elements of Jewish practice as part of their faith along with believing in Yeshua. They have, as it were, bought what they considered a whole package and have not yet unwrapped it and decided what is really important for them. In the first century the phenomenon was common enough to require considerable attention among the early believers (Acts 15 and the whole book of Galatians, for starters). (3) Gentiles or Jews who have brought into their faith practices found in other religions with which they are familiar. These practices often appeal to their religiosity but are irrelevant or even contrary to the gospel. (4) Finally, Messianics who have not grasped how the incorporation of the Renewed Covenant into Elohim’s Torah and the presence of the Set-apart Spirit in themselves alters the way in which the Torah is to be applied. They therefore feel a compulsiveness about observing ceremonial and ritual details. When their faith grows stronger they will be free not from the Torah-law but from legalistic compulsiveness (Stern, pp. 431-434).
On the phrase in Romans 14:2, “One man has faith … eats vegetables,” Messianic Jewish biblical teacher Joseph Shulam writes that the references to “vegetables” (and thus to “meat” by contrast) most likely relates to the problems associated with food offered to idols; vegetarianism was not a religious or theological issue per se during the Second Temple period. The Jewish believers’ sensitivities derive from extensions or “fences” against the possibility of idolatry and or from traditional interpretations concerning kashrut (the laws concerning clean and unclean animals and ritual slaughtering), as well as the laws concerning ritual purity. To exclude meat from one’s diet was a solution to those who doubted the origin of meat, its method of slaughter, and the possibility that it might have been offered to idols before sale in the market. When the “weak” person refrains from eating food that has been offered to idols, Paul considers him in effect to question whether Elohim has more power than the idol (A Commentary On the Jewish Roots of Romans, pp. 457-458).
So nowhere is the issue in Romans 14 a matter of clean versus unclean meats, but of vegetarianism as opposed to meat eating as a means of avoiding eating meat sacrificed to idols. So once again, in examining the Hebraic and historic cultural context of the passage we see that the traditional Christian interpretation of this passage as an invalidation of the biblical kosher laws is erroneous and a matter of men’s traditions making of none effect the plain Word of YHVH (Matt 15:7-9 and Mark 7:7-9).
I know and am convinced by the Master Yeshua that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
In this verse, is the Apostle Paul declaring that there is no longer a distinction between clean and unclean foods, therefore making void the biblical dietary laws? Let’s analyze the contextual and linguistic aspects of this passage to see what Paul is really saying here.
The word unclean (koinos) in this verse can also mean “common,” and in three places in the Apostolic Scriptures the two words “common” and “unclean” are used side by side; q.v. Acts 10: 14, 28 and 11:8, which says, “But I said, Not so, Master: for nothing common [koinos] or unclean [akathartos] has at any time entered into my mouth. “From this example, we see that unclean in Romans 14 can also mean “common” as we find in Acts 11. The word for unclean in Acts 11:8 is an entirely different word; therefore, akathartos is a reference to unclean meat, as proscribed by the Torah. Koinos, on the other hand, cannot mean unclean meat in Romans 14, or else Acts 11:8 would be a superfluous and unexplainably redundant in using two words that mean exactly the same thing. The word koinos is used elsewhere in the Apostolic Scriptures not to mean “unclean,” as in “unclean meat,” but “unclean” as in unwashed hands (Matt. 7:2), or “common,” as in something that is shared commonly among people (Acts 2:44; 4:32; Tit 1:4; Jude 3). Of the seven places this word is used in the Apostolic Scriptures it never means unclean meat.
In David Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary, on Romans 14 he states that Paul is not abrogating the biblical dietary laws. On verse 14, Stern states that Paul is referring to ritual purity, not whether something is unclean (nonkosher) meat or not. What is ritual purity? It is a reference to either how something was slaughtered, and whether it was bled properly, or whether the meat had previously been sacrificed to idols before being sold in the public meat markets—a common practice in that day in pagan cities.
Furthermore, Paul could not have been advocating eating swine, and other unclean meats, without making himself into a total hypocrite and liar, since in several places in the Book of Acts he strongly states (toward the end of his life) that he was a Torah-observant Jew and walked orderly and kept the Torah (Acts 21:20), and that he had not broken any of the Torah laws (Acts 25:16), which would have included the dietary laws contained in the Torah.
Let’s also keep an important point in mind when speaking of YHVH’s biblical dietary commands: When someone gets born again their digestive system does not change. Eating unclean or biblically unkosher meat is, from a purely medical standpoint, deleterious to one’s health regardless of whether one is a believer in Yeshua or not.
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths …
Because no one is to judge us in meat or in drink does this mean that believers are free to eat anything they want, regardless of the biblical kosher laws? This is how many interpret this passage.
As in the other passages we are examining, the key to understand the single verse is to understand it in its context. As Botkin points out, verses 13-14 state that we have been forgiven because “the certificate of debt” that was against us has been taken out of the way. Is this referring to the Torah-law of Elohim that somehow in the “New Testament” has been annulled by Yeshua’s work on the cross?
To the contrary, Botkin points out that the Greek word for certificate of debt is a unique technical term used in extra-biblical Greek writings and it means “certificate of indebtedness” (see A Greek Lexicon of the NT, by Arndt and Gingrich). This, according to Botkin, is referring to the record of man’s sins that have been thrown out of Elohim’s heavenly courtroom. Because the Messiah died for our sins, this record of our transgressions is inadmissible evidence in the Courtroom of Heaven. Because of the work of our Advocate, Yeshua, we have triumphed over our accuser (verse 15). It is for this reason that we are to let no man judge us (verse 16) since we have been forgiven of our sins (verse 13), which is the violation of YHVH’s Torah-law (1 John 3:4). Since the record of our sins has been removed from Elohim’s heavenly courtroom through the work of Yeshua our advocate (lawyer), and since Yeshua triumphed over the devil (verse 15) who had claim on our lives because of our sin, the penalty of which is death (Ezek 18:4 and Rom 6:23) and through Yeshua we passed from condemnation (eternal death) to (eternal) life (John 3:18; 5:24; Rom 7:24 and 8:1-2) no one has the right to judge or condemn us.
For that reason, says Botkin, Paul goes on to say, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink” or in any other of YHVH’s Torah commands such as the appointed times or festivals or the Sabbath. In other words, through Messiah (through his grace and divine empowerment of the indwelling presence of his Spirit in you) you have the power to obey the commandments of Elohim regarding food, drink, feast days, new moons and Sabbaths (God’s Dietary Laws, by Daniel Botkin, Gates of Eden magazine, Nov./Dec. 1997 issue).
So once again this passage in no way abrogates YHVH’s dietary laws, but validates them.
1 Timothy 4:3-5
… commanding to abstain from foods which Elohim created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of Elohim is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of Elohim and prayer.
Many take this passage to mean that simple “prayer over the food” sanctifies nonkosher food. Were we to take this logic to its illogical conclusion, then we might suppose that prayer over skunk meat, certain poisonous types of frogs, snakes and salamanders would make them edible. Of course, this is ridiculous. Is this really what Paul, the orthodox Jewish rabbi, is teaching? Once again, understanding Scripture in its context is essential to obtaining its proper interpretation. These verses read:
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which Elohim has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of Elohim is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of Elohim and prayer. (emphasis added)
What does this passage really say? Does it say that the meat we eat is sanctified (i.e., set aside for special use) only through the act of prayer?
In verse five Paul teaches that the meat we eat is sanctified through prayer and the Word of Elohim. When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy there was no “New Testament” (or Apostolic Scriptures)—only the “Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures or Tanakh). Where in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find which meats YHVH has set aside or sanctified for man as edible? Leviticus chapter eleven, of course. Furthermore, in verse three above Paul talks about “them which believe and know the truth.” How does Scripture define truth? Yeshua defined truth as the Word of Elohim (namely the Hebrew Scriptures, which is all that existed at that time) (John 17:7). The Hebrew Scriptures define truth as the Torah-law of YHVH (which contain YHVH’s biblical kosher laws pertaining to clean and unclean meats) (Ps 119:142 and 151).
So when examined in its proper context this passage in 2 Timothy in no way teaches that it is scripturally permissible for believers to indulge in unclean meats. On the contrary, this passage in fact validates the biblical kosher laws as outlined in the Torah and shows clearly, if we let Scripture speak for itself and define its own terms instead of reading into it our own meanings, that the biblical dietary laws are for believers today.