A Contradiction regarding Clean Foods?

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

Bassam Zawadi seeks to interact with one of our answers to a question on eating pork.

Basically the author tried to show that Mark 7:18-23 shows Jesus declaring all food clean. 

Here is the passage 

"Are you so dull?" he (Jesus) asked, "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'."
Mark 7:18-23

However, not everyone believed that this is what Jesus meant. Because the apostles still believed in the prohibition of certain food.


Zawadi would have been more correct to say that not everyone understood what Jesus meant until much later:

"They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him." Mark 9:30-32

"And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said." Luke 18:31-34

"Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." John 2:19-22

"I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." John 16:12-13

"Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag'dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead." John 20:1-9

So just because Jesus said something doesn’t mean that the apostles would automatically understand his words. It would require the resurrection of Christ, the advent of the Holy Spirit and much contemplation before they could see and comprehend the bigger picture.

Mark, who wrote after all these events, drew the correct inference from Jesus’ words as indicated in other places of Scripture. More on that later.

Now we will see that it is Zawadi that didn’t understand what either Jesus or the Jerusalem council meant.

In the Book of Acts the Apostles wrote a letter to the gentiles to abstain from certain foods.

Acts 15:29

29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

There are also Christians that don't believe that Mark 7 shows that Jesus declared all food clean. You should read them here.....


Zawadi assumes that this reference proves that not all foods are lawful, and in so assuming exposes more of his inability to read passages carefully in order to understand them. Jesus’ statement in Mark is in reference to foods in general, i.e. that things such as cattle, pigs are not defiling in and of themselves:

"‘Are you so dull?’ he asked, ‘Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’) He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him "unclean." For from within, out of men’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man "unclean".’" Mark 7:18-23

As the Lord says, food entering the body doesn’t defile anyone internally, but rather it is a person’s heart that makes one clean or not. God created all creatures which obviously means that all animals are good by design since nothing that God makes is evil or defiling. The apostle Paul beautifully summed up the words of Jesus:

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer." 1 Timothy 4:1-5

The statements in the book of Acts do not contradict this in the least, nor do they imply that pork cannot be consumed, since any animal which is offered to idols, is strangled, or has blood in it would be made unlawful irrespective of whether it is a cow or a pig!

Moreover, the context of Acts 15 deals with the apostles and elders actually freeing the Gentile Christians from having to observe certain aspects of the Law such as the ceremonies and dietary prohibitions:

"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoeni'cia and Sama'ria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’ … After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old." Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.’ Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsab'bas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter: ‘The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili'cia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’" Acts 15:1-11, 13-29

This in itself shows that the intention behind the council in Acts 15 was to make certain things lawful for the Gentile believers such as the consumption of all foods provided that they met certain conditions, conditions which Jesus didn’t intend to over turn. After all, Jesus wouldn’t permit believers from eating foods offered to idols just as the following references prove:

"And to the angel of the church in Per’gamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An’tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality.’" Revelation 2:12-14

"And to the angel of the church in Thyati'ra write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez’ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality.’" Revelation 2:18-21

Putting it simply, Jesus wasn’t commenting on animals which had blood in them, or that had been offered to idols. Rather, Christ was simply speaking of the nature of food, i.e. that since God created animals this implies that they are clean and good by design. Animals therefore cannot in and of themselves defile a person’s heart.

Furthermore, the reason why the council in Acts 15 forbade Gentiles from eating either strangled animals or meat with blood in it was to prevent any unnecessary offense or obstacle for the Jews. Note, once again, the words of James:

"Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues." Acts 15:19-21

The reference to Moses being read in synagogues everywhere indicates that James’ purpose in giving specific instructions to the Gentiles prohibiting animals with blood or that had been strangled was to prevent any of the Jews who lived amongst them from being offended. James was basically telling the Gentiles to refrain from eating meats which may hinder the Jews from embracing the Gospel. The Apostle Paul taught something similar when he informed Christians that even though all foods were lawful for them they were to refrain from eating certain meats if such foods would cause unbelievers or even weaker believers from stumbling:

"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand... Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." Romans 14:1-4, 13-23

Thus, the command to refrain from eating meats with blood or strangled animals was for the purpose of not offending the Jews, whereas the prohibition to eat meats sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality wasn’t given for this reason. These specific commands are universal in application and not time specific, i.e. they are prohibitions which are binding on all believers in every age since God condemns sexual immorality and idolatry for all times.{1}

Hence, Acts 15 doesn’t provide Zawadi the justification for arguing that pig meat is unlawful for true believers even till this day.

Moreover, if this is what Zawadi is trying to prove, that Gentile Christians are obligated to follow the dietary restrictions of the OT, then he is simply exposing his inconsistency at this point. After all, the Quran permits meats of camels and other practices expressly condemned in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures also bound the Israelites to observe Sabbath, something which Muhammad discarded for his community. In other words, Zawadi’s approach ends up making Muhammad a lawbreaker, a violator of the very revelation given to Moses!

For more on this issue, see the following:



{1} But even here the prohibition against eating meats offered to idols needs to be qualified. It is not a sin for a person to buy and eat meats from the market which may initially have been offered to an idol, or to eat food offered by an unbeliever provided that this doesn’t cause the unbeliever to stumble. What the command prohibits is eating meats offered to idols in the temples, as part of the pagan festivities or rituals. In other words, a Christian cannot partake of pagan celebrations and festivities where he eats sacrifices to idols, but can eat such meats if sold in the markets or offered to him while at the home of an unbeliever. As the Apostle Paul put it:

"Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ ... However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." 1 Corinthians 8:1-4, 7-13

"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience -- I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." 1 Corinthians 10 :14-33

In other words, the problem is not the meat itself, but the context in which it is eaten. Christians cannot partake in idolatrous festivals. They cannot endorse the idolatry by sharing in the meals of those festivals after the animals have just been slaughtered as sacrifices to the idols, and their meat is being eaten in the name of those deities.

However, the meat as such is not tainted. There is no reason to abstain from it after the context changed, whether buying it from the market or being offered a meal in an unbeliever's house. The food there may or may not have come from such a source, but it is no longer in the religious context of deliberate worship of a false deity. It is simply food.

Participation in idolatrous feasts are damaging internally and externally. Internally to the faith of a believer, and externally to the witness of the believer before the world, or by potentially damaging the faith of another believer. The meat is neutral. What matters is not the butcher's relationship to God, but the consumer's.

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