Sunday, May 3, 2009

Did Jesus Really Teach That Unsanitary Practices Are OK?

In view of the ongoing swine flu outbreak, I would like to discuss a scripture which is a source of perplexity and controversy for many Christians. This is one of those "difficult sayings of the Bible" which needs to be explained. The scripture up for discussion is Matthew 15: 1-20. In this scripture, Jesus and His disciples were observed eating without first washing their hands. The Pharisees pounced upon Him, and accused Him of going against the traditional practices of cleanliness. Jesus however, then explained to them the reason why He and His disciples did not follow those practices, and ended His explanation by saying, "but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man" (Matthew 15:20). Here is the whole passage.

  1. Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,
  2. Why do thy disciples trangress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
  3. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
  4. For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father and mother, let him die the death.
  5. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
  6. And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
  7. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
  8. This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouths, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
  9. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
  10. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand.
  11. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
  12. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?
  13. But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
  14. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
  15. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
  16. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
  17. Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
  18. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
  19. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
  20. These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not man.

Jesus addressed a whole host of issues within this passage, ranging from man-made doctrines to traditional practices which conflict with God's law, to people's tendency to follow erroneous leaders, to what defiles a man, to handwashing! Wow!

Was Jesus teaching that it did not matter if we did not wash our hands before eating? How could Jesus teach this when cleanliness was a big part of Biblical doctrine, especially Old Testament doctrine, which was written by God, not man? This is therefore one of those difficult sayings of the Bible which is worthy of an explanation!

Let me first begin my explanation by saying that JESUS WAS NOT TEACHING THAT EATING WITH UNWASHED HANDS WILL NOT MAKE YOU UNHEALTHY OR SICK. We need to understand that Jesus was not preaching a health message here. He was dealing with spiritual defilement NOT bodily defilement. In the then Jewish tradition, it was believed that if a man ate his food with unwashed hands, then that person would become spiritually defiled and sinful, because they ate food that was defiled by "dirty" hands (vs. 11). The Pharisees erroneously believed that food that was "defiled" by handling would somehow make a person's soul unrighteous if it was eaten. Clearly, this is a misconception because the Bible clearly teaches that corruption of our souls is NOT CAUSED BY FOOD BUT BY SIN (vss. 18-20; Mark 7: 20-23; 1 John 1:7-9). Sin is what causes defilement of our souls, and it is sin which makes us our souls unclean before God. It is because of the uncleanliness of sin why Jesus came to cleanse our souls from sin by His sacrifice on the cross.

Here are facts and the truth of the matter. Sin will defile the soul and make the soul unclean unto God. Sin is what defiles man. Sin defiles our souls, our spirit, and even our bodies when we commit sin with our bodies. Eating polluted food will defile the BODY, not the soul. Eating polluted food may make the body unhealthy and sick, but has NO EFFECT on the inner soul (unless we purposely eat polluted food to destroy our bodies, then that would be a sin). We need to understand that we become defiled with sin when our thoughts, words, and actions are in conflict with God's will. Food enters our body through the digestive system, and the waste products are excreted (vs. 17). Food has no impact on our souls in the sense that food can make us sin or not sin. Food cannot cause us to commit sin. Any sin that we commit is not a result of the food that we have eaten, but is caused from the sin that resides in our soul. I have heard many people, even today in our modern world, say that if you eat too much beef you will end up taking on the personality of cows. I have even heard some say that meat eating causes us to take on an animal nature! Let me square with you. According to Jesus, that debased animal nature that some of us may have is not caused by food, but is a result of one's own inherent sinful nature. We all have sinful natures, although some may be more debased than some, but we are all in need in Christ to come in and change our natures from sinful to holy.

My theme scripture for this blog is 1 Thessolonians 5:23, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." God, my friends, is interested in all three aspects of you - your spirit, soul, and body. Sin defiles your spirit, soul, and body and makes them "unclean" to God. Now while disease and sickness defiles the body in a non-spiritual sense by making it unhealthy, it does not defile your soul. Having an illness or disease does not make us "unclean" before God. Illness and disease are a consequence of living in a sinful world. True wholeness therefore involves not only restoration of the soul and spirit, but also the body from sin and its consequences. Truly, it is God's wish for us to be healthy in every way, both body and soul (3 John 2). Seeking after bodily health is a good thing! The more healthy you are, the more you can do for God with your body, and the more happier you will be in your body, and the more you will be able to enjoy life in your body. If we seek after spiritual cleanliness and righteousness, then our lives will bear the fruit of righteous living and good health!

In conclusion, Jesus was not saying that it was healthy to eat with unwashed hands. He was saying that the food that we eat cannot give us a sinful nature, but that it is the sinful thoughts in our hearts, which cause us to perform sinful acts, which defile us and make us sinful before God.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this explanation. You have a real gift for Bible teaching.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Crackpot, I thank you very much