In this series of articles we have examined statements of Jesus Christ that when understood correctly are surprisingly different in meaning from the way they are commonly understood. In the case of dietary restrictions recorded in the Bible, the surprise may be the result of understanding not just what Jesus said but what He did not say in the Gospel of Mark.
Many believe that in His encounter with the Pharisees recorded in Mark 7:1-23, Jesus abrogated the laws of clean and unclean meats revealed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. In fact, many modern translations of the New Testament insert additional words into the text of Mark 7:19 to reflect this understanding. For example, the New International Version ends the verse with: “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’).”
The New King James Version has “thus purifying all foods” and includes the marginal explanation: “NU [an abbreviation for the text used by many New Testament translations] sets off the final phrase as Mark’s comment, that Jesus has declared all foods clean.”
But is this textual variation correct? Does it capture the meaning of the passage in question? What exactly did Jesus mean by His statement?
Context provides the answer
One of the foundational principles for understanding a scriptural passage is to examine the context. What is the topic of discussion here?
We should first notice that the subject is food in general, not which meats are clean or unclean .The Greek word broma, used in Mark 7:19, simply means food. An entirely different Greek word, kreas, is used in the New Testament where meat—animal flesh—is specifically intended (see Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 13:8). So this passage concerns the general subject of food rather than meat. But a closer look shows that more is involved.
The first two verses help us understand the context: “Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of Hi