Many a Christian turn to Matthew 15 as a proof text to show that we can eat anything that we like. But did you know that this Chapter contains a Parable? And may I suggest that it is one of the most misunderstood Parables of Christ?
So let’s look at the context before we look at the Parable.
An argument about eating with unwashed hands / transgressing the traditions of the Elders
Mat 15:1,2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
At the onset, we must note that the argument between the Pharisees and Yeshua, is about the Traditions of the Elders and not about the Word of God. Actually in the next few verses, we see Christ distinguishing the Commandments of God from the Traditions of the Elders.
Commandments of God vs Traditions of Men
Mat 15:3-6 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; 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.
We see that Yeshua takes one instance that the Traditions of the Elders (Oral Law) breaks God’s Commandments, thus showing the inconsistency of the Traditions of Men with the Commands of God.
Isaiah 29:13 and Doctrines of Men
Mat 15:7-9 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Yeshua quotes Isaiah 29:13 as a proof-text for Traditions which are taught by men being adhered to with the hopes of honouring God, but falling short.
A Misunderstood Parable
Mat 15:10-11 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
All of us have read the above verses and thought “Does that mean, we can eat whatever we like?”. But note what Yeshua told the Multitude… Hear and understand! But what evidence is there to say that the above is a Parable, and what is its meaning, if it is a Parable?
The Disciples have questions
Mat 15:12-15 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
We see that the words of Christ hit a sore spot with the Pharisees, which was communicated to Him by the disciples. Yeshua’s reply to the conflict was quite harsh. But whatever caused the Pharisees to be offended was not understood properly by Peter (and most probably, the other disciples) who asked the meaning of the “Parable”. This proves the point that “It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean” is a Parable. It is not to be understood on face value. It has a deeper meaning which the Pharisees understood while the disciples didn’t.
The Explanation of the Parable
Mat 15:16-20 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
The Master explains the parable to be comparing the “Command of God” vs the “Traditions of Men”. The Command of God shows us to guard our Heart where all evil thoughts come from (Gen 6:5, 8:21). Sin surely defiles a man, while the traditions of men such as eating with unwashed hands, while having the outward appearance of Holiness does nothing to make a man holy before God, as it is at the end just vain worship commanded by man. Christ speaks nothing about food or the commandments of God about clean/unclean meats given in Leviticus 11, in Matthew chapter 15 or it’s parallel in Mark 7. The Pharisees were offended at this parable as they would have surely understood that Yeshua spoke of them and their hypocrisy.
Matthew 15:15 and Mark 7:17 prove that Christ spoke a parable about the Traditions of Men and the Commands of God which most Christians have taken out of context by reading the surface material while missing the explanation which shows we are to obey the Commands of God to keep ourselves from defilement of Sin while rejecting traditions given by blind human guides.