Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Clean and Unclean meat

Clean and Unclean meat

Our Church today was different as the Pastor called for questions from the audience which he attempted to answer. The last question was by a woman who had a ham in the freezer and wanted to know if she could eat it. As this is an Adventist church his final albeit somewhat confused answer was that she should dump it, vegetarianism is preferred. However it does not answer the real question which is does the Bible still maintain the division of Clean and unclean meat. If you search the internet you see it is still a contentious issue. It starts with a very small difference in the manuscripts which ends up creating two different translations of Mark 7:19

A site which accepts that the division continues states:

*Although there are many minor textual differences between source documents of the New Covenant, it is very rare that a variance significantly affects meaning. Mark 7:18-19 is one of these rare passages. The difference of a single letter (Omicron or Omega) determines gender for the word "purging, making clean" near the end of v.19 (katharizon). If the word's gender is neuter (written with the Omicron), it attaches to "stomach," and is speaking of the digestive process. (See the King James Version, for instance.) But for translators who believe the word's gender is masculine (written with the Omega), it must look all the way back to the "He" (Yeshua) at the beginning of verse 18 for its masculine subject. For the sake of clarity, these translators insert a phrase that never appears in the Greek: "Thus He declared."

Thus we end up with two contenders in most translations.

(NKJV) Mark 7:19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, [thus] purifying all foods?"

(NASB) Mark 7:19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

There is to the modern mind a preference here; as the idea that human feces purifying one’s food is not too scientifically reasonable. It represents the waste that the body does not use if the food had toxins or contaminants they well may still be in the body to cause whatever trouble they may cause. We are however not going to get a certain answer to which Greek rendering is correct as clearly from the different translations there is scholarly disagreement.

Those who hold that there is still a division of clean and unclean meat will focus on the context which in Mark begins with the contention that Jesus’ Disciples did not ritually wash their hands before they ate. This again to the scientific Western mind is a pretty good ritual, beneficial even if not using soap and running water. Never the less they hold that the context is about this tradition of the Elders and not about God’s explicit commands given in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (if those commands were for health purposes it is a shame that God did not tell them to wash their hands because it would have been far more healthful for all concerned). In order to maintain the clean and unclean meat people will us Malachi 3:6 which says God does not change. A true statement but also goes against the contextual use, in that God does not change but then again He does use different techniques to teach people depending on time and place. Jesus very frequently answers questions in ways that are not limited to the original context of the questioner. That is why in this case the disciples asked for clarification after Jesus had given his answer to the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law. The disciples may not have been the brightest fellows but having been with Jesus they quickly realized that His answers were not all that simple. A classic example I often use to stress this point is when Jesus was threaten with death and accused of blasphemy, He responded by quoting Psalms “you are gods”. John 10:34-36 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, `I have said you are gods' ? [Psalms 82:6] If he called them `gods,' to whom the word of God came--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God's Son'?( NIV) Jesus could rhetorically duel with the best of them. He asserted that Psalms was their law which would likely start and internal argument as would what was meant by gods and the phrase Scripture cannot be broken. So before they can declare Jesus guilty of blasphemy they have a lot of work to do. So it is no surprise that the disciples asked for clarification. Many of those who argue for the division of clean and unclean remaining will choose this point to declare that what goes into a man here is speaking of the dirt on unwashed hands. This is a possible answer but what if the meaning was broader, what if Jesus was laying a foundation for future concepts, which would end in the dismantling of the clean and unclean meat restrictions. If this is like the Omicron vs. Omega difference the respective ways of interpreting the following Biblical texts may also be different and also the understanding of New Testament Christians in regard to clean and unclean meat.

If we begin at this point with a broader understanding of the text in Mark 7, that is, that it is a reference to anything entering man’s mouth is not what makes him unclean but rather the things of his heart that make him unclean we see that clean and unclean meat could be meant just as well as dirt on the hands or a bug flying into your mouth etc. Being clean or unclean is a matter of how you think and act rather then rituals. It is from this perspective that the Expositor’s Bible Commentary writes:

This statement clearly has its eye on a situation such as developed in the Pauline mission churches in which questions of clean and unclean foods (cf. Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-10 and see Rom 14:13 ff.) and idol-meats became live issues (as we know from 1Cor 8:10) This chapter in Mark 7 is perhaps the most obvious declaration of Mark's purpose as a Christian living in the Graeco-Roman world who wishes to publicize the charter of Gentile freedom by recording in the plainest terms Jesus' detachment from Jewish ceremonial and to spell out in clear tones the application of this to his readers. (Martin, Mark, p. 220). If Peter stands behind Mark's Gospel, these words are particularly apropos in the light of Acts 10:15.

Peter had a vision recorded in Acts 10 which concludes with these words:

“Acts 10:14-15 Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. “The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (NIV) The vision presents the idea that God can make something clean that was once unclean in which case it is not God changing but the change God has made upon people. So why were the Gentiles unclean for the Jews, naturally because they did not follow the Jewish laws and rituals which included the dietary restrictions that separated the Jew from the Gentile and would make the Jew unclean by the mere contact with a Gentile. Peter’s vision here in Acts 10 is not restricted to only dietary restrictions but they can’t remain if the concept is taken to include the gospel going to the Gentiles. You can’t have contact with the Gentiles yet avoid the Gentiles because they were unclean. While we may not know the exact time sequence we do see a similar drawing away by Peter from the Gentiles as recorded by Paul: Galatians 2:11-14 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (NIV)

The Conference recorded in Acts 15 demonstrates that clean and unclean meat were not restrictions placed upon the Gentiles. Again this is not a change of God it is a different way of dealing with a different people.

Acts 15:19-20 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (NIV)

The council of apostles and Christian leaders at Jerusalem in approximately A.D. 49 indicates that the leaders were not instituting Jewish laws or traditions upon the Gentiles. It hit probably what they thought were the biggest concerns but even then as we continue in the New Testament we see that even food offered to idols is not really a problem unless the Christian believes it to be a problem.

1 Corinthians 8:7-9 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (NIV)

Paul continues upon Jesus’ foundation that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles by declaring us free from the external rules of clean or unclean foods and not simply based upon food offered to idols. To Timothy Paul writes: 1 Timothy 4:1-6 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (NIV)

Romans 14:14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food n is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

Romans 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (NIV)

To read an article which takes the opposite view starting at the Mark 7 verse see Are All Foods Clean?

There is a basic philosophical difference in the two methods of interpretations, that which I have set forth above and present in most of the Christian world and that represented by the article Are All Foods Clean? I think the philosophy which I reject is well summed up in the final paragraph of the Are All Foods Clean article when he says:

God does not change. The prohibition He placed on which animals man can use for food still exists. As the prophecy from Isaiah 66 shows, those who do not acknowledge these commands will be among those God pours His anger out upon at the time of the return of the Messiah. Don't be counted among this rebellious group destined for punishment.

As opposed to the philosophy which sees God as the kind of personality who reaches out to people where they are, dealing with them in their life situations, whose commands reflect the freedom from ritualism to reason. A philosophy which sees God as one who does not demand obedience or He will kill you, but asks us to choose to accept a better way, a reasoned way of living. Open to ones own perceptions and based upon their own convictions of what God wants for their lives. As John 8:36 says: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Today if one wants to choose to not use a food they should present a reason from a scientific or philosophical position rather then asserting that something is Biblically restricted when there are legitimate differences in the interpretations of the data.

1 comment:

Dick Larsen said...

I will maintain that in Jesus I have th freedom to eat anything and I also have the freedom to not eat some things. So now I have to actually think and act intentional. I can eat something because I want to. I can not eat it because I don't want to. I can eat it not because I want to or not but because it was offered to me out of kindness.