Q: Leviticus 11 mentions "unclean" foods that we should not eat, but Mark 7 says that it is not what goes "in" that makes a man unclean but what comes "out" of his heart. Why do the Old and New Testaments contradict each other?Interesting question! This was turned in to me via email and asks an appropriate question that any thinking person would want to know.
No doubt, Jesus' teaching that following rules does not matter near as much as having a pure heart seems to be at odds with the heart of the Mosaic law found in Leviticus. In fact, many books have been written on this stark and inescapable contrast. Martin Luther sought to set in sharp contrast "law" and "gospel", as did numerous other reformed theologians in order to sort out the seeming conundrum.
However, I think some deeper investigation of the text helps us to sort out the matter a little more clearly. Jesus, in this passage, is addressing the Pharisaic commitment to "the traditions of the elders". These were derived from commentaries on the law. These commentaries helped an observant Jew to find out the best way to fulfill the law of Moses.
There were special ways of washing one's hands, ways to avoid having to tell the truth, keep an oath, etc. Jesus was criticized for not observing these traditions, and Jesus' words that what comes out of a man's heart makes him unclean was a clear rejection of the Pharisees' keeping of the traditions of the elders.
Clearly the law of Moses was full of commandments about what is "clean" and "unclean" food. Jesus is never found in the gospels violating that kind of command or even questioning it. However, he does seem to be saying that ceremonial or religious purity is of little significance to God in comparison to what is in our hearts. In this sense, Jesus rebukes Pharisees in all the ages.
For me, I'm looking for ways to see my own heart become increasingly pure, asking God that I might become a person less driven by things like anger, vanity, impatience, selfishness, etc. Those are the things that are deadly when it comes to my relationship with God on a more essential level than how I wash my hands (the issues Jesus was responding to in Mark 7).
Labels: grace, Jesus Christ, Jewish practices, law, Mosaic Covenant, Moses, New Testament, Old Covenant, Old Testament, tradition of the elders