Questions about Ceremonial Dietary Laws

I recently received a question about ceremonial laws. The question is whether ceremonial laws from the OT, e.g., dietary laws, the Saturday Sabbath, and circumcision are presently valid for Christians today. The question revolves around the practice of the first Christians in Jerusalem who continued to keep the kosher laws (Acts 10:14), worshipped on Saturday and Sunday (Acts 20:7), and were circumcised (Acts 16:3). One could assume, well since they did it in the Apostolic era, why not now? Also, their question included an interpretation of Mark 7:18-19 on when Christ “cleansed all foods.”

It is always best to begin with the big picture and move the specifics. Let’s start with the biggest picture, The Lord Jesus. Paul taught the church of Colossae to let no one be their judge with regard to various ceremonial acts like Sabbaths, New moons, Festivals, dietary restrictions, or anything else that had become obsolete with the incarnation of Jesus (Col 2:16ff). Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled all the symbols of the OT sacrificial system, thus to continue those is to practically deny the presence of the reality. That’s why Paul called these a skia or foreshadow of the reality, Jesus in the flesh. He made a similar argument in Ephesians 2:14-16 when he said that Jesus reconciled the Jew and Gentile into one body in himself, and had abolished the dividing wall contained in ordinances (that it, ceremonial ordinances which separated the Jew from the Gentile). Hebrews 7:12 also mentioned that the principle of this change is based around a priesthood change. With the change of a priesthood comes a change of the laws.  Jesus as the high priest of thing to come (not Aaron) changed the way we ceremonially approach the Lord thru his intercession. The change in the way the covenant is administered by Christ does not mean the Bible has contradiction, but rather that the reality foreshadowed by the ceremonies came true in Jesus.

What do we make of this? 1. There is a distinction between the ordinances of the ceremonial laws and the moral law per se. 2. They’re Christological. The NT is aware of this distinction between moral and ceremonial laws and thus sees the ceremonies as foreshadowing Jesus. 3. The reality being Jesus, we no longer practice the foreshadow.

With that said, the Apostolic church did continue to associate with the synagogue and temple. There is no doubt about that. On that see my Article on Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. It’s not very thorough, but deals with this issue. My views have matured since then, so don’t take it as final thoughts. I’m preaching on Acts 10 this sunday at 5pm, so just go to church.

As regard the Mark 7 passage. Verse 19 reads “He declared all tings clean.” Some get bent out of shape over this translation because the word “declared” does not appear in the verse. That does not mean this translation is incorrect, though. In Greek, the Participle “He Cleansed” is very flexible, and must be understood by contextual usage. The Participle is in the Present Active Indicative masculine nominative singular. The problem is that there is no antecedent in verse 19 this word matches. So what does it mean? There are several ways to take this, but I will show two of the more likely ones. First, it could be parallel in meaning to the word in verse 18 legei (he said) which is in the present active indicative. The Subject would be Jesus, and this would be rendered, “He said all things are clean.”  That’s likely because in Mark the word legei often functions to begin direct discourse, followed by the quote, followed by an interpretation by the narrator. Another way to take it is as the verb in a causative sense. Basically, it would read “He cleansed all foods.”

Either of these are equally likely. Apparently there are some interpretations floating around out there that say that the word cleansing has to do with cleansing feces by defecation reading something like, “Because it [food] entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught [latrine], purging all meats.”  (Geneva Bible). So it’s taken as a result participle, meaning that the state of cleansing was accomplished through digestion and defecation. Perhaps I’m missing something but I can’t understand how feces is the pure state of food!

The passage simply means that Jesus made all foods clean. They pointed to Christ because he was the pure one who did not associate with the wicked and their ways (which is what they mean by the way, see Ezekiel 4:14f, Acts 10:28). Yet at the same time he became sin for us, and became like one who is unclean, though he never was unclean. Like all types and shadows, once the reality is present, the foreshadow is done away with.

One more dimension to this is that some people feel that abrogating the OT ceremonial law makes scripture contradict itself. This is not the case, in fact the Bible is self aware of the temporary and typological nature of the ceremonies (Heb 7:12, and chapter 8). Further, the moral law is never abrogated. How could what’s more become immoral? Nevertheless, the way the covenant is administrated outwardly in covenant ceremony changed in the NT era. I recommend reading the article here: