That Which Defiles, Part 1 | Mark 7:14–16
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. [ 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.]
Sometimes, Christians develop odd notions about diet. Once, I saw granola bars that were supposed to taste like manna. People argue that God wants us to be vegetarians because of Adam and Eve, while others sell books promising detox and weight-loss based on how Daniel ate. Some eat kosher because they believe there’s an intrinsic holiness that comes from keeping the dietary law of Moses. Jesus addresses these notions while confronting the false traditions of the Pharisees.
Consider first His commands. As the multitude of people considered the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees (vv. 1–13), Jesus regathers them for further exposition. Perhaps He now turns to those who’ll be more receptive to His message, but either way, He gives two commands—to hear what He says and to understand it. Listen to the message that’s preached and study to understand the message’s meaning. Hearing Scripture is noting historical facts (Moses commanded Israel to a particular diet; Christ fulfilled the Law and Christians are under the New Covenant), and understanding Scripture is knowing what facts mean (God demands our holiness; kosher laws don’t apply to us).
Holiness is an internal problem, not an external one. The point of the Law wasn’t necessarily to keep a person healthy and safe from “evil” foods, but to mark separation. As an example, it wasn’t that shrimp had the capacity to make an ancient Israelite unholy; he couldn’t eat it simply because God said not to. Those under the Old Covenant set themselves apart from those who did, which reminded everyone that Yahweh is holy. If He then decided to bring the Jews and Gentiles together (as He does in Christ), then the command changes (cf. v. 19).
Even though we have a problem with holiness, it’s not how we eat or wash our hands that will keep our way pure. Only the Word of God can do that (Ps 119:9). If Christ indeed indwells you, then He calls you to a holiness only He offers (1 Pt 1:14–16). We’ll see more on this principle in the next verses.