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Food Restrictions

Submitted by on Friday, 15 May 2009No Comment

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The selection of Acts narrates how the decision of the Council of Jerusalem was carried out and how it was received. The decision is found in vv. 13-21. It is James, head of the mother Church in Jerusalem who gives the guidelines based on the principle given by Peter (vv. 7-11). James gives the guidelines because those responsible for “disturbing the peace” of the Gentile brothers, came from Judea. He explains that these brothers “went out without any mandate from us” (v. 24).

The content of the letter distributed agrees with the words of James and Peter (vv. 28-29; see vv. 10.19-20): no further burdens will be placed upon the Gentiles except that they abstain:

  • (a) from meat sacrificed to idols
  • (b) from blood
  • (c) from the meat of strangled animals
  • (d) unlawful marriage

These restrictions are the same as those given to the so-called God-fearers.1 This was given in view of the fact that converts from both Jews and Gentiles were to live together as one. The guidelines given by James reflects the situation around the year 50 AD (the time of the Council of Jerusalem). Around the year 70 AD, however, there was a change in attitude towards Jewish restrictions on meat. In Mark 7:1-23, we find the evangelist recording an event where he comments on the words of Jesus on the question of clean and unclean. According to Mark, when Jesus says: “Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine? (Mark 7:18-19)” , he was pronouncing all foods clean (v.19). Mark was writing for Gentile converts in Rome who by that time have probably also heard Paul’s teaching on the Mosaic Law and its inability to change the person from within and allow him/her to live according to the will of God (Rom. 7-8). In fact, even in the Marcan account mentioned above, it is evident that the Christian religion is more a matter of the heart than a matter of Law:

(Indeed) what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:20-23)


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Mark 7:1-23
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1And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem.
2And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.
3For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients:
4And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds.
5And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands?
6But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7And in vain to they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men.
8For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these.
9And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
10For Moses said: Honour thy father and thy mother; and He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die.
11But you say: If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, (which is a gift,) whatsoever is from me, shall profit thee.
12And further you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother,
13Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do.
14And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand.
15There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man.
16If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
17And when he was come into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked him the parable.
18And he saith to them: So are you also without knowledge? understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him:
19Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats?
20But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
21For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
23All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.
Mark 7:18-19
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
18And he saith to them: So are you also without knowledge? understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him:
19Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats?
Mark 7:20-23
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
20But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
21For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
23All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.
Mark 7:1-23
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
1And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem.
2And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.
3For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients:
4And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds.
5And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands?
6But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7And in vain to they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men.
8For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these.
9And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
10For Moses said: Honour thy father and thy mother; and He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die.
11But you say: If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, (which is a gift,) whatsoever is from me, shall profit thee.
12And further you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother,
13Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do.
14And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand.
15There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man.
16If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
17And when he was come into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked him the parable.
18And he saith to them: So are you also without knowledge? understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him:
19Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats?
20But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
21For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
23All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.

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  1. God-fearers are Gentiles who wish to practise the Jewish religion; they enjoy a second-class status in Judaism. In Christianity however, Jews and Gentiles were of equal status because both peoples have been purchased by the blood of Christ. []

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