“because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:19 NASB
Clean – What a mess this verse has created! Why it became a mess is a study in the program of self-identity that the Church undertook in the third century. Suffice it to say that the early fathers of the Church made deliberate attempts to remove themselves from Jewish origins, and dietary laws were front and center in that battle. But third century exegesis does not make good first century commentary. There is more here than meets the eye, especially if you are wearing “Christian-dogma” colored glasses.
In the past we have noted Tim Hegg’s excellent article on the problems with the Greek text, and the misinterpretation of this text based on the addition of “Thus He declared.” No such subject occurs in the Greek, making the dangling participle (cleansed) awkward. Hegg points out that a perfectly legitimate translation of the text would focus on the bodily cleansing process of elimination, contrasting this process with the defilement of the heart which is not cleansed through normal elimination.
But Daniel Boyarin provides an even clearer solution to this difficult passage by treating it for what it is in context. Yeshua is engaged in an intramural debate with other Pharisees over the precise requirements of the purification of food. Boyarin points out that in the first century some Pharisees advocated strict observance of the oral Torah which added stipulations about handling kosher food so that it might not be contaminated by contact with unclean substances. As Boyarin notes, the debate is not about the necessity of kashrut (kosher eating). Boyarin observes that the dialog never challenges the need for dietary laws. The dialogue challenges the Pharisee’s added requirements about handling food (and in Torah, anything not kosher is not food). Boyarin indicates that “the system of purity and impurity laws and the system of dietary laws are two different systems within the Torah’s rules for eating.” Yeshua is addressing the former, not the latter. Yeshua simply says that the Pharisees additional requirements concerning hand washing are unnecessary since no impurity is attached to what God has already designated as “food” simply because a man doesn’t wash his hands before touching it. Such supposed impurity cannot defile a man because it passes through him. Yeshua recalls the emphasis of the written Torah, noting that only what comes out of a man can defile him. And Torah is quite specific on what those things are (menstrual blood and semen). These things, and only these things, that come out of the body can render someone impure. Food cannot do so. Thus, concludes Yeshua, the additional requirement of hand-washing is not only superfluous, it is not found in Torah.
Then Yeshua makes an object lesson of this event. He explains to his disciples that the added requirements of the Pharisees have missed the point. What matters when it comes to purity is the condition of the heart. This is not a statement about kashrut. Kosher still applies. No one in the circle of this conversation ever doubted that. When Mark adds the editorial, “Cleansing all foods,” he was not abrogating kashrut. He was explaining that food touched by impure substances does not render the consumer impure. Any food (and that means kosher) is already cleansed because God has already designated it food.
Boyarin puts to rest the tortured exegesis of Christian apologists who wish to claim Yeshua abolished kashrut. Everyone present on that day was Jewish. Everyone was Torah observant when it came to kashrut. Yeshua never suggested otherwise. He simply took issue with the Pharisaical practice of hand-washing as a useless addition. If Boyarin, a Jewish scholar, can see that this is the heart of Yeshua’s comment, then why do Christian theologians insist on adding “Thus He declared,” as Origen did in the 2nd century? Could it be that they want to be rid of kashrut even if Yeshua doesn’t say so?
Topical Index: clean, kashrut, kosher, Mark 7:19, Boyarin
 Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels, p. 113.