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What does Matthew 15:11 ‘Not that which goes into a man that defiles him’ mean?

A very common text is Matthew 15:11 which is often used to justify that the dietary laws for clean and unclean animals are no longer binding. Many have drank or eaten just about any and everything that can be consumed: octopus, bats, pork, frogs, lizards or even mice. Was the bible giving the license for the consumption of any and every kind of “food” when it mentioned, ” Not that which goes into a man that defiles him“?

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. ” Matthew 15:11

What was the background and setting of this text?

“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. ” Matthew 15:1-2

Answer: The Jews had a tradition requiring that the hands should be ceremonially washed after each contact with a Gentile. The Pharisees seeing the disciples eating without washing their hands posed a question to Jesus, why do your disciples transgress, or break the tradition of the Jewish elders.

What was Christ response to the Pharisees?

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Matthew 15:11

Was this to be taken literally?
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.” Matthew 15:15

Answer: Notice the request from Peter, which tells us this is a parable and should not be literally applied.

How then was this parable declared or expounded upon?

“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 a man.” Matthew 15:19-20

Answer: The Jewish leaders were upset about the custom of ceremonial washing of hands, while at the same time, they had anger, which is like murder, in their hearts toward Christ. The ceremonial uncleanness was only an imagined defilement whiles theft, fornication, and adultery which was in the heart was the true defilement. Christ was dealing with the traditions of men (ceremonial washing of hands) versus the washing of the heart or mind in which the question of diet was not involved at all.

What must I do should an evil thought come to mind?

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Evil thoughts destroy the soul.


The converting power of God changes the heart, refines and purifies the thoughts. Unless a determined effort is made to keep the thoughts centered on Christ, grace cannot reveal itself in the life. The mind must engage in the spiritual warfare. Every thought must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. All the habits must be brought under God’s control. Would you allow Christ to take control of your mind today?

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